Monday, March 17, 2014

The Good German and the Heroic Brit on PBS, and Bieganski by Omission

Bieganski, the Brute Polak, works in predictable ways.

Bieganski can appear in a PBS documentary that never so much as mentions Poles.

"Bugging Hitler's Soldiers" is an excellent PBS documentary that introduces the viewer to a recently disclosed British program.

During World War II, the Brits imprisoned Nazi generals and soldiers. Britain, in one of the first acts of surveillance of this kind, bugged the soldiers and generals. Their conversations were recorded and transcribed. These conversations reveal how ordinary Germans signed on to, and committed, horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of Jews and other victims of the Nazis.

Their testimony is grotesque. One soldier brags about raping Russian women. Another confesses to sleeping with Jewish women before they are gunned down and buried in mass graves.

One soldier had been a prisoner in Buchenwald. He talks about uses made of the tanned human skin of concentration camp inmates.

One of the Nazi soldiers is named Horst Minnieur. The narrator pronounces his name as "horse manure." Never was there a better name for a Nazi.

Again, this documentary is excellent. It never mentions Poles and mentions Poland only once in passing. How does this documentary play into the Bieganski stereotype?

The Brits are the sole heroes fighting the Nazis. And the Brits are so very heroic.

The documentary mentions the, in the words of Helen Fry Sync, "very British, very clever" espionage. The program never mentions World War II's greatest espionage coup, the Polish work on Enigma. The documentary lauds "very British very clever" espionage revealing the existence of the Peenemunde V-1 and V-2 rockets, while never mentioning the Polish contribution to that aspect of the war. The documentary praises the Brits for figuring out that the Holocaust was actually taking place. The documentary never mentions the work of Polish Home Army soldiers like Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki in uncovering the horrors of the Holocaust and sending that news westward.

So, you have these really bad guys, Nazis, and you have these sole, heroic people fighting against them. The Brits.

But wait, there's more.

Yes, the Nazis are saying horrifying things. This documentary, repeating the transcribed words of German soldiers, reveals that ordinary Germans DID know what was going on and DID participate in atrocities.

Given how much these Germans are like us – modern, white, well-educated, Western – this information might be impossible to assimilate.

The documentary makes it all go down much easier by foregrounding, not evil Nazis, not doomed Jews, not the heroic transcribers, many of them German Jews, not even British people. No.

The heroes in the foreground are all wearing German army uniforms. They are two German generals who said critical things about Hitler. One is General Willheim Ritter von Thoma. The other is General Paul von Felbert.

Von Thoma dominates the screen throughout this documentary. The transcript, at the PBS website, reveals that von Thoma's name is mentioned FIFTY times. In a fifty minute documentary about Nazi horrors, and about the willingness, even the eagerness and gusto, that ordinary Germans exercised when participating in atrocities against Russians and Jews, the name of a HEROIC German general in Hitler's army is mentioned fifty times, and that handsome, fully uniformed general dominates the screen.

In that narrative vacuum, Bieganski provides an excellent villain.

The end of the documentary is hideous. The documentary states, "Not one of Trent Park’s prisoners was ever convicted of a single war crime on the basis of what they said while imprisoned." The excuse the Brits give for this miscarriage of justice? They wanted to preserve their espionage secrets.

Nonsense. They could have avoided admitting that they'd gathered this info via microphones. They could have said they merely eavesdropped at keyholes. They could have interrogated the generals and told them that their cellmates had turned on them and gotten fresh testimony. But the heroic, clever, wonderful Brits let these animals go.

You can watch "Bugging Hitler's Soldiers" here.

Oh, one more thing. These Nazi soldiers talked a lot about victimizing Poles. For example, one talked about the satisfaction he received, when bombing Poland, in targeting mothers pushing baby carriages. The victimization of Poles doesn't make it into this PBS episode. You can read more about it here.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, it is quite common for British works to ignore or minimize the achievements of the Poles. For instance, consider some British works on the Battle of Britain (click on my name in this posting).


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