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Holocaust returns to haunt German television

The collective memory is dredged up one more time by faded black- and-white images flickering on the screens, as millions of viewers sit glued to their television sets hoping not to catch a glimpse of a familiar face. The Holocaust is back.

Contrary to perceptions abroad, Germans cannot get enough of "ze war", but now relief is at hand. A six-part series, Hitler's Helpers, kicked off on the second public channel last night, promising an exhaustive dissection of the Fuhrer's most loyal boot-lickers.

It has been done before, but the latest block-buster, unlike all previous ones except a major series on Hitler himself, is German. "British and American television producers must not be allowed to dominate the business of depicting German history and its most sensitive period," says Guido Knopp, the director. "This is our own history, its dissemination is our duty."

Apart from the Eighties soap opera, Heimat, the most successful stabs at the Nazi era have been foreign ones. Schindler's List remains the most memorable treatment of the period on the big screen.

German historical research has only recently started catching up with academics working abroad. Last year, the American scholar Daniel Goldhagen caused a storm with a book that accused the entire German nation of acting as "Hitler's willing executioners".

Mr Knopp has plans for a further series that will address the ultimate question of collective guilt. In the next two years, historians in Germany and Jerusalem are to sift through hundreds of thousands of secret Nazi documents for his next project, which seeks to establish how many Germans were mass murderers. "Goldhagen asked the right questions but gave the wrong answers," he says.