American filmmaker Ken Burns’ latest documentary, The US and the Holocaust, made with producers Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, follows the American response to the Holocaust of Jews and other minority groups during the Second World War.
The series utilises a number of leading war historians including Deborah Lipstadt who became a well-known figure when she was taken to court over a libel case by Holocaust denier David Irving. She won the case which is featured in the drama film Denial starring Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt and Timothy Spall as Irving.
Burns is well-known for his epic documentary series on major events in American history including the American Civil War, First and Second World Wars, Vietnam War, and Prohibition. He has also made documentaries about the jazz and country music movements and an eight-part series about boxer Muhammad Ali.
What is The US and the Holocaust about?
The series looks at the American response to the Holocaust, beginning with the decision to restrict immigration in the years before the Second World War. As Adolf Hitler’s anti-semitic rhetoric gains support in Germany, the Nazis ramp up their campaign of intimidation and persecution of Jewish citizens.
Many Jews attempt to flee Germany and Austria for other European nations or the United States - the surge in immigration in the late 1930s concerns world leaders and they struggle to put together a plan to deal with the crisis.
The documentary also covers Kristallnacht - the Night of Broken Glass - in which Jewish properties, businesses, and synagogues were damaged or destroyed across Germany and Austria. This event spurs more Jews to flee as it becomes apparent that they and their families are not safe in the Third Reich. As America continues to condemn the Nazi regime, the country is divided over how to respond.
After the Nazis break their pact with the Russians and invade the Soviet Union, in the Reich, the Holocaust begins, but is kept secret from the rest of the world. The series then explores how news about the Holocaust began to trickle out of Germany as day by day, news of the Nazis’ atrocities come to light and the US is unable to turn a blind eye.
As the War Refugee Board is established to help with rescue operations, the war against Germany continues apace - as the allies advance, liberating concentration camps, they uncover clear evidence of the Nazi war crimes and the genocide of European Jews. The full scale of the Holocaust is finally shown to the world.
What was the Holocaust?
The Holocaust, called the Shoah by Jewish people, was the systematic genocide of Jews in Europe from roughly 1941-1945. Roughly 6 million Jews are estimated to have been killed in the Holocaust - other minorities, including Gypsies and homosexuals were also killed.
Jews were deported from territories under German control during the Second World War, including Germany, Austria, occupied France, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Jews forced into ghettos and later sent to concentration camps where they suffered violence, forced labour, starvation, sexual assault, torture, and forced medical experimentation.
Later in the war, death camps were established with gas chambers where Jews were murdered en masse. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest death camps, more than one million people were murdered - roughly 90% of them were Jews.
Is there a trailer for The US and the Holocaust?
Yes there is, and you can watch it right here:
When is The US and the Holocaust on TV?
The documentary first aired in the US on PBS in September last year. It has now arrived in the UK and the full series is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. The series will also be broadcast on BBC Four, with the first episode airing on Monday 9 January at 10pm.
How many episodes are there in The US and the Holocaust?
There are three feature-length episodes in the series - each episode is roughly two hours long.