TV Review

What you need for large-scale genocide is not an inexplicable eruption of evil - you need bureaucratic determination married to routine malice

"No scruples, only stubbornness," said a German veteran in The Nazis (BBC2). He was describing Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's invasion of Russia, but the translation of his word "sturheit" struck a slightly odd note - as if the shooting of civilians was the result of a whimsical refusal to change one's mind. "Obdurateness" might have been better, or something like "unswerving dedication". But however you express this rather Teutonic concept in English it was clear that it was at the heart of what was to follow. There were singular horrors in this account of the road to Treblinka, but this film confirmed that it does not take singular people to commit them. What you need for a large-scale genocide is not an inexplicable eruption of evil - you need bureaucratic determination married to the kind of routine malice that is always ready for recruitment.

This film, like others in the series, was remarkable principally for its interviews and its scholarly footnotes. It has found striking images in the archives, of course; last night for instance the account of an early massacre of Jews in Lithuania was illustrated with photographs of the event - as men were bludgeoned to death with a crowbar a large crowd looked on, including a woman in a smart floral dress smiling broadly. But it was the photographer's account of how one of the killers had stood on the bodies to play the Lithuanian national anthem that really brought home this ghastly festival. Occasionally the archive pictures strike up discordant echoes, echoes intended by the film-makers I think, but handled with considerable tact. Looking at footage of Berliners in 1941, sunbathing by the city lakes, you couldn't help but think of the half-dressed women you had already seen, trembling in a Lithuanian wood as they waited for a bullet in the back of the head.

The Nazis didn't offer a conclusive answer to the question of how much those sunbathers knew - but they made it very clear that the people who worked the machinery of the Holocaust were not moral aliens - monsters discontinuous with our own small failures of imagination or courage. There were scruples - however inadequate they seem to the the scale of the crime. Soldiers became distressed by their duty and the difficulty of maintaining their morale was one of the motives for developing less hand-crafted methods of extermination. What's more, even the architects of mass murder knew that this was a project that could never hold its head up in public; a wartime telephone operator told of a striking conversation between Himmler and Bormann, in which the former accidentally used the word "liquidation" rather than the approved euphemism, "evacuation". Bormann lost his temper and threatened to report the breach of protocol to Hitler.

What all this suggested was that the mystery of the death camps was not the disappearance of common conscience but its daily defeat. And in that respect "sturheit" was an indispensable ally - making a virtue out of vice. To shoot children became "brave", to falter in murder an act of cowardice. An old lady was asked how she could reconcile the "sweet, chivalrous" Heydrich she knew with the man who ordered the murder of thousands of civilians. "It's actually quite logical, you see," she answered calmly. "If someone is conscientious like Heydrich and does everything thoroughly as he always wanted to, then he can't help it." By this light, the meticulous bookkeeping of the Einsatzgruppen was not a symptom of moral blindness but a blinkering device in itself - something so formally correct could surely not be a record of bestiality. Watching Heydrich and Himmler on the terrace at the Berghof you saw two ambitious managers in business suits, burying all human concerns beneath a larger goal. Are such men still out there? You bet they are, which is why The Nazis is the most significant programme currently on air.

Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Web Application Support Manager

    £60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

    ** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

    £120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

    ** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

    £120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

    ** Secondary Maths Teacher Required In Liverpool **

    £120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments