Review of BBC Documentary How the Holocaust Began

Review of BBC Documentary How the Holocaust Began

Photo: Historian James Bulgin at the Majdanek concentration camp, near Lublin, Poland Credit: Benjamin Holgate/BBC

James Bulgin’s BBC Two documentary contains horrifying footage, showing how ordinary people facilitated the Nazis in murdering Jews

What springs to mind when you hear the word “Holocaust?” This was the question which opened James Bulgin’s film “How the Holocaust Began” (BBC). Most likely you will think of somewhere like Auschwitz, and the Nazis presiding over processed mass murder. But Bulgin, an historian from the Imperial War Museum, wanted to show us something different.

Large-scale executions of Jews began in 1941 as the Germans made their way across Eastern Europe. Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen death squads carried out many of these murders. But the chilling truth presented here was that they did not, in fact, could not, act alone. They needed not just the tacit support of the civilian population, but their active participation. Ordinary people facilitated and sometimes carried out the mass killings of men, women and children.

The documentary contained horrific footage, a “home movie” shot by a German soldier of people being marched into trenches and shot in the head. Spectators gather round, smoking and talking, to watch. It was a terrible thing to see. But equally unforgettable were the words of Faina Kukliansky, whose grandmother had been rounded up in Alytus, Lithuania, and taken to a forest along with 2,500 others to be murdered. Kukliansky had discovered that this was done by local townsfolk and even school children: “That confirms what my uncle used to tell me… That probably his classmates killed his mother.”

Full review here.