Life & Culture

Rise of the Nazis - The Manhunt review: Exposing the failure to punish evil

Latest installment of series explores why it fell to heroes such as Fritz Bauer and Beate Klarsfeld to finish the work of governments in securing justice for the horrors of Hitler's regime


Rise of the Nazis s4,19-09-2023,Most Wanted,1 - Most Wanted,Soldiers storming building on the hunt for Rudolf Höss in Germany.,72 Films,Audrius Solominas

Rise of the Nazis:
The Manhunt
BBC 2 | ★★★★✩

Anyone expecting this latest, and I’m assuming last, season of BBC2 docuseries The Rise of the Nazis, to be about the rise of the Nazis, is in for a disappointment.

The title fits the first catchment of three episodes, but for the next instalment it should have been ‘The Nazis are Doing Pretty Well’, then ‘The Decline of the Nazis’, and now these three episodes, ‘The Mop-Up’.

With the airing of the final episode, we’re now able to consider the whole project. The original transmission in 2019 still stands tallest in terms of originality, being informative, and filling in gaps of knowledge.

Perhaps too much effort was made trying to connect the modern political landscape to the ruthless rise of Nazism, showing how a democracy can transform to a dictatorship.

Yet compared to the typical narratives of films and series concerning the Second World War it was relatively uncharted territory.

So too with the aftermath of the war, which these three hours focus upon. Specifically the fate of the surviving Nazis.

Nuremberg, Eichmann’s capture and trial, and Nazi hunters are subjects that have certainly been covered before, but this is the first time I’ve seen the topic presented as a whole. As such, it serves as an excellent primer.

Opening on British Army footage of what troops encountered upon liberating Bergen-Belsen, hearing English accents in that setting, ties us to images it’s still difficult to process - even when you know what to expect. For those soldiers facing what must have previously been unimaginable, the question would soon turn to how to deal with the perpetrators.

The scale was massive. With 7.5 million armed personnel captured, Captain Victor Cross and his unit were given a list of 70,000 names to track down. Top of the list was Rudolph Hoss, commandant of Auschwitz, who was initially in custody but was let go under a different name.

The programme does a fair bit of jumping about, both back and forward in time, but also from individual stories to the larger context. Growing tensions between the Allied winners, coupled with a desire not to repeat the perceived mistakes of the aftermath of the First World War, were in tension with the need for reckoning and setting the historical record as a warning to the future.

However, with only 486 Nazis condemned to death, it hardly seems as though justice was served. You had people like Albert Speer gaming the system, and in doing so creating the myth of the "good"’ Nazi. Only six years after the war there were protests for clemency, with a SS death squad among those subsequently released and treated as heroes.

Perhaps most damning of all was an American secret service which protected Nazis like Klaus Barbie, aka the Butcher of Lyon, because he served their new interests.

But some stood tall and said no to a world all too ready to move on. It fell to individual heroes like Fritz Bauer and Beate Klarsfeld to finish the work of governments.

Without them who knows if we would even have documentaries like these, which would be an extra tragedy.

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