Talking to Hitler's lost tribe
The award-winning film-maker Laurence Rees has spent the past 15 years tracking down and interviewing former Nazis. As his new TV series begins in the UK, he tells Stephen Bates about the people he met and their inability to truly repent.
"People always say Hitler fixed you with his eye contact, looked at you just a bit longer than anyone else," says Rees. He should know: the producer of two of the most memorable - and award-laden - documentary series of the past 10 years, The Nazis: a Warning from History and, earlier this year, Auschwitz: the Nazis and the Final Solution, has almost certainly interviewed more former Nazis than any other Briton alive. It is almost as if he has become transfixed.
The interviews have produced some heart-stopping moments, such as when a grandmotherly old woman, confronted with the evidence that she had shopped a neighbour to the Nazis, looks up to the sky and murmurs defensively: "Oh look, it's started to rain ..."
Or, in the Auschwitz series, an interview with the former guard Oskar Groening who insisted repeatedly and seemingly shamelessly that it hadn't been so bad, he'd enjoyed his work, before finally blurting out his reasons for agreeing to be filmed. He had always refused to talk about Auschwitz even to his own family but now he wanted to give witness against the Holocaust deniers, such as friends at his local philately club, who had insisted the camps were all a lie. That was why he said on film: "I would like you to believe me. I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematoria. I saw the open fires. I was on the ramp when the selections took place. I would like you to believe that these atrocities happened, because I was there."
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