Berlin 1933, BBC Berlin 1933, BBC

A remarkably fresh documentary on Hitler’s entry into power in 1933 shows a complicit ruling class, and a left that failed to fight effectively, finds John Westmoreland

Historians and students alike never seem to tire of history about Germany, Hitler, and the Nazis. Coming up with something new is bound to be a bit of a challenge, but it looks like Berlin 1933, a three-part BBC documentary, might well have pulled it off. The creators use first-hand testimony from letters, diaries and newspapers, as well as original film footage, to bring us face to face with that fateful year, 1933.

The first episode, shown on Tuesday at 9.10 on BBC 4, takes us through the spring of 1933 when Hitler was levered into the Chancellery by a coterie of right-wing plotters that included major industrialists and politicians, and who accepted Hitler’s pledge that he would rid Germany of communism and democracy. We then see the Nazi dictatorship being founded by the crushing of the labour movement, the free press, and the judiciary, and the formation of the terror regime. The terror came from the Nazi fanatics in the SA and SS.

The film is essentially a series of quotations from primary sources, with a minimum of commentary. This creates a feeling of direct contact (or as near as damn it) to the actual events. The selection of the material from a range of viewpoints is well-judged, and, I am glad to say, at least if Episode 1 is anything to go by, reinforces Marxist analysis.

There are some very moving and alarming testimonies from a range of witnesses. For example, Goebbels’ diary entries are useful in that they are absolutely candid, and show the ruthlessness of the Nazi takeover. There are also plenty of quotations from the Nazis’ victims: a housewife, writers, communists and ordinary workers.

While I wouldn’t want to give away the best bits, there are a few things to keep an eye on. First, there is clear evidence that the working class was ready and willing to take on the Nazis. Hitler could have been stopped, but for some disastrous leadership on the left. Second, Hitler’s aims were known to the ruling class. He promised to smash democracy and support German capitalism with crushing military force. Watch out for the criminals that never got tried at Nuremberg. Third, we have to admit that Nazi propaganda was streets ahead of the left. The clever attacks on the free press as a corruptor of German culture, and the exciting prospect of Germany being reborn, is historically important and cleverly exposed.

So far Berlin 1933 looks to be an excellent watch. You can follow it on BBC iPlayer.

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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