Sunday, May 19

‘Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial’ is ‘cautionary tale’ as America faces critical stage, filmmaker says

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger is stunned so many people lack the basic understanding of facts surrounding World War II and hopes to provide a “cautionary tale” with “Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial.”

The six-part Netflix series aims to educate viewers on the “forgotten” history of World War II by examining the Third Reich’s birth through its downfall and the devastation Adolf Hitler caused along the way, told through the lens of the Nuremberg trials. 

“In America, we are in the midst of our own reckoning with democracy, with authoritarianism knocking at the door and a rise in antisemitism: belief in democratic institutions, belief in government, belief in democracy are at critical stages, across all ideologies,” Berlinger said when promoting the series

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“We’ve split into camps and villainized one another,” he continued. “But, if people don’t learn to talk with each other and to have a basic respect for one another, the very foundations of democracy will crumble.” 

Each episode explores a different element of the Nazi regime, from Hitler’s rise to power to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, where unprecedented evil was held to account. 

“It shocks me the degree to which people are unaware of or have forgotten this history. One in 10 millennial responders thought the Holocaust was caused by the Jews. 50 percent of people couldn’t even name just one of the 40,000 concentration camps, including Auschwitz,” Berlinger said. “So, this is the right time to retell this story for a younger generation as a cautionary tale, and on a global scale.”

The series comes as America has grappled with what Berlinger calls “dehumanization and antisemitism that’s extreme by modern standards.”

“By dissecting what happened in Nazi Germany, hopefully what viewers will see is just how precious democracy is, and how easily it can be attacked from within, and how important it is to protect,” Berlinger said, adding that he chose to focus on the Eastern Front of World War II, mainly involving the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, to fill in blanks for American viewers. 

“The Western Front is the war most Americans know and understand, but it was not the main event for Hitler,” Berlinger said.

Berlinger, an acclaimed producer and director, has made dozens of true crime hits, including on infamous fraudster Bernie Madoff and serial killers John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. He said he got into filmmaking as a teenager when he was “horrified” by some of the Holocaust liberation footage that is featured in the series. 

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Berlinger feels the eyewitness testimony of late American journalist William L. Shirer, whose vital coverage of the era was relied on for the series, sets “Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial” apart from other World War II documentaries. 

“Shirer had a front row seat to Hitler’s rise to power. And having poured his firsthand experiences into numerous literary works, not only did we find ourselves with a personal lens through which to see this historical moment, but also felt now more than ever it was important to bring his words to life,” Berlinger said. 

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Shirer, who died in 1993, is heard throughout the series as modern technology allowed him to serve as a narrator. 

“A lot of his reports were censored in Germany, but he had the courage to smuggle his diaries out at great personal risk – and then he started to tell the world through numerous books he published, including ‘Berlin Diary’ and, most famously, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,'” Berlinger said. 

“Today, because AI technology is at a certain place, we thought we could actually bring those writings to life in his own voice,” he continued. “We got permission from the family, and they were thrilled with the idea. I think it really brings a lot to the storytelling.” 

“Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial” hits Netflix on June 5.

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