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auschwitz: inside the nazi state
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Program Synopses

Episode Summaries


Surprising Beginnings (March 1940-September 1941)

"Surprising Beginnings" sets the stage for the series and examines the radical increase in violence against all opponents of the Nazi state during this 18-month period. In particular, the program explores the importance of the German Army's invasion of the Soviet Union during the summer of 1941 and connects this campaign to the first gassing experiments in Auschwitz, which were aimed at Russian prisoners of war, not Jews.

In the final segment, Linda Ellerbee talks with Michael Berenbaum, professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and author of Anatomy of the Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp (published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Indiana University Press, 1994); and Melvin Jules Bukiet, professor of creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and author of Nothing Makes You Free: Writings by Descendants of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (W.W. Norton, 2002).

Orders and Initiatives (September 1941-March 1942)

"Orders and Initiatives" highlights the crucial decision-making period of the Holocaust, encompassing the secret plans of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich. At a conference at Wannsee in January 1942, the participants work toward finalizing their goal-the systematic genocide of an entire people. The first gas chambers are built at Auschwitz and the use of Zyklon B is developed. German doctors arrive to oversee each transport, deciding who should live and who should die.

In the final segment, Linda Ellerbee talks with Claudia Koonz, professor of history at Duke University and author of The Nazi Conscience (Belknap, 2003) and Mothers in the Fatherland, Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (St. Martin's Press, 1987); and Edward Kissi, professor of Africana studies, University of South Florida, an expert on international relations and human rights, and author of the forthcoming Revolution and Genocide in the Third World: A Comparative Study of Ethiopia and Cambodia (Lexington Books).

Factories of Death (March 1942-March 1943)

"Factories of Death" examines the complex annihilation system that the Nazis spread throughout Europe, with Auschwitz as the hub. We learn why the first transport of Jewish men, women, and children interred at Drancy, outside Paris, were transported to Auschwitz in March 1942 and what happened to the children who were rounded up without their parents. Genocide is being perpetrated not only at Auschwitz, but at other camps, such as Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor. Astonishingly, rival Nazi camp commanders participate with enthusiasm and share ideas for the best method of mass murder.

In the final segment, Linda Ellerbee talks with Debórah Dwork, Rose Professor of Holocaust History at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, and the author of Children with a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe (Yale University Press, 1991) and with Robert Jan van Pelt, Holocaust: A History (Norton, 2002); and John K. Roth, Edward J. Sexton professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College in California (a visiting scholar at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004-2005), author of After-words: Post-Holocaust Struggles with Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Justice (University of Washington Press, 2004), and editor of Genocide in Rwanda: Complicity of the Churches? (Paragon House, 2004).

Corruption (April 1943-March 1944)

"Corruption" reveals why Auschwitz was unique in the Nazi state as the only site that was both a concentration and an extermination camp. The reason was simple-money. At Auschwitz, the Nazis wanted to kill "useless mouths" instantly and work stronger prisoners to death as slave laborers in places like the nearby IG Farben factory. Meanwhile, the SS profited from the belongings of those they killed-so much so, that in the summer of 1943, an investigation was launched into corruption in the camp and the commandant was removed. Elsewhere, individuals and nations are finding ways to resist the spread of deportations. Denmark, for example, is able to protect its Jewish population from Auschwitz.

In the final segment, Linda Ellerbee talks with David Marwell, a historian and director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City; Doris Bergen, associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); and Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of The Rabbi Donald A. Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University and author of Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust (1933-1945) (Free Press, 1986), Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (Plume, 1994), and History on Trial: My Day in Court with Holocaust Denier David Irving (Ecco, 2005).

Murder and Intrigue (March 1944-December 1944)

"Murder and Intrigue" explores the complex web of international politics spun during the last nine months of 1944. By that spring, the Allies knew about Auschwitz and had the military capability to bomb it. Yet despite the pleas of Jewish leaders, the British and Americans decided not to bomb the railways or gas chambers. During the spring and summer, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz at a time when the killing machinery had been honed to perfection. That autumn saw a significant act of resistance in Auschwitz, when a group of Jewish prisoners revolted. Amazingly, before their deaths, some secretly wrote about their experiences.

In the final segment, Linda Ellerbee talks with Gail Smith, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former special assistant to the president and senior director of African affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration; and Jerry Fowler, who has taught human rights law and policy at George Mason University Law School and directs the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Liberation and Revenge (January 1945 and beyond)

"Liberation and Revenge" completes the history of Auschwitz. As the end of the war approached, Auschwitz camp officers tried to hide the evidence of their crimes but were not completely successful. After liberation, survivors searched for their family and tried to return to their prewar homes, but former communities and neighbors did not always welcome them back. As evidence of war crimes emerged, some senior SS officers were tried and convicted; others were allowed to resume their lives. Over four years, 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz and 1.1 million people died there. Of the 7,000 members of the SS who worked at Auschwitz and survived the war, fewer than 800 were ever put on trial.

In the final segment, Linda Ellerbee talks with eight students: Humera Ahmed, a sophomore at Boston College (school identifications are as of spring 2004); Henry Connelly, a senior at The Crossroads School, Santa Monica; Carmen Farias, a sophomore at Wellesley College; Adam Finelli, a junior at New York University; Lewis Frank, a senior at Boston Latin School; Meredith (Molly) Higgins, a senior at Boston Latin School; Janelle Jackson, a freshman at Clark Atlanta University; and Lydia Ross, a freshman at Columbia College. Humera, Carmen, Adam, Lewis, Molly, and Janelle had previously taken a course on the Holocaust with Judi Freeman, Seevak Chair in History at Boston Latin School, and several participated on a class trip to Poland.