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Evil on Trial!

I must state at the outset that the title is not mine. It’s the name of a docu-drama I watched on Netflix, from which I couldn’t shake the effects for days. Its full title is: “Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial.”

When I look at films made about the Nazis, every time I approach them with a prejudice like, “There’s nothing new left to say, let’s see what they’ve done in this one,” only to be largely proven wrong. This indicates both my lack of comprehensive knowledge about this darkest period of recent history, and probably my unawareness of the amazing archival work done especially by Jewish sources.

The Nuremberg Trials, as you may know… For those who don’t, let me briefly share encyclopedic information.

The Nuremberg Trials (Nuremberg Trials) were international military tribunals that, after the end of World War II, prosecuted senior leaders of Nazi Germany for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. These tribunals, which took place in Nuremberg, Germany, from November 20, 1945, to October 1, 1946, played a significant role in establishing post-war justice and advancing international law. They were established by the Allied Powers (USA, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and France) to ensure the fair trial and punishment of war criminals.

The tribunal prosecuted crimes under three main headings: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace, including subcategories such as violations of war laws, genocide, enslavement, forced labor, and barbaric crimes against humanity.

Unquestionably, the main defendant was Adolf Hitler, but since he committed suicide, he was not tried. Along with him, 24 senior Nazis, including names like Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, and Albert Speer, were tried. Twelve were sentenced to death, three to life imprisonment. Three others were acquitted. These three acquitted individuals (Franz Von Papen (Diplomat), Hjalmar Schacht (Minister of Economics), and Goebbels’ assistant Hans Fritzsche) indeed deserve their own documentaries.

To date, dozens of films have been made about the Nuremberg trials.

However, the trials of the Second World War and the Fascists were certainly not limited to Nuremberg. Others included the Sobibor Trials, the Einsatzgruppen Trials established with care by our own SADAT, the most brutal POW camp Auschwitz Trials, another death camp Dachau Trials, and the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, to name a few.

Returning to our documentary; ‘Evil on Trial’ focuses on the Nuremberg Trials. However, we follow it through the notes of a journalist: William L. Shirer… An American journalist, Shirer was one of the most authentic witnesses of World War II. His Berlin Diaries remain one of the most important written sources for this period. The work that gives the documentary its name is also by this journalist.

The six invaluable episodes of the documentary are titled: The Origins of Evil, The Rise of the Third Reich (Hitler), Hitler in Power, The Road to Destruction, Crimes Against Humanity, and Reckoning…

Enriched with interviews with witnesses, heroes’ relatives, and scientists, the documentary includes a lot of dramatization. And it features real footage that we have seldom seen before.

A note in the finale of the ‘Evil on Trial’ series also saddens us: “Most of the music in the series is adapted from compositions by Holocaust victims!”

While watching the series, the fact that we constantly think of today’s world might be unfortunate for us, but it once again shows us the reality that history is a cycle. Because there are many parallels in the series that could easily apply to today. Whether it’s xenophobia, searching for a scapegoat for one’s own failures, or the tendency to rewrite history and deny reality when something doesn’t suit you… the series features very familiar feelings and situations. Without a doubt, Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial is not an explicit comparison with current events. However, many things are so clear that even people from a country seemingly unrelated to the event, like Turkey, could say, “Wow, we’re watching the same movie again!”

Let’s say this; director Joe Berlinger knows very well how to appeal to Generation Z and how to present shocking events to a wide audience. Those who remember will recall that he made a name for himself with various true crime documentaries for Netflix: Bernie Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street, Jeffrey Dahmer: Self-Portrait of a Serial Killer, and Murdered: Crime Scene Times Square can be attributed to this experienced American.

In Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial, he once again applies tried and tested techniques. Among other things, he aims to make the events a bit more emotional through numerous re-enacted scenes. The goal is not to deliver a dry history lesson, but to capture the viewer, and even the name of the documentary seems to have been chosen for this purpose.

The documentary series, filled with details, traces the rise and fall of the Nazi regime. As the talking heads describe every little thing that led to a major disaster, the series builds itself step by step. The serial allows us to wonder how the situation might have been different if, for example, Hitler had not spoken at a meeting where the leaders of the German Workers’ Party found potential in Hitler’s angry speech. Or if Hitler had been a really good artist (he was a mediocre painter who copied buildings from postcards because he couldn’t draw people), he would have spent his time generating new artistic ideas instead of ugly political plans.

Of course, the documentary does not tell us anything new. Only the style and documents are new. The real new documents are reconsidered and reorganized. In Hitler and the Nazis: Evil on Trial, the focus is mainly on the dictator, tracing his career and trying to unravel his psychology. We learn about his childhood, artistic passions, and shattered dreams. At least in part, it tries to explain how all this came about.

Not only looking at ‘what’ but also ‘why’, and on the one hand, after saying, “Oh my God, these things are starting to happen again in many parts of the world today,” it makes us ask the question: How can such a thing be prevented from happening again?

I set aside the last part for ourselves. Turks who watch this documentary will definitely draw parallels with their own realities. Many people have compared Hitler to Tayyip Erdoğan. For example, Hitler suppressed the opposition and went as far as killing people who did not share his beliefs.

Those who know how Erdoğan has used his power to suppress the voice of the opposition will think of this correlation. For example, dropping parliamentary memberships, evicting them from parliament, using law enforcement for raids and arrests, etc. Like Hitler, Erdoğan has created a myth around himself as the savior of the people, presenting himself as a godlike figure.

Another similarity: under Nazi rule, Jewish businesses were boycotted. This is a method often used by the Erdoğan regime. One flag, one homeland, one language, come from Hitler to Erdoğan.

Erdoğan’s obsession with being native and national is also a legacy from Hitler. There isn’t much difference in terms of the supporting crowds either. The crowds that brought Hitler to power and supported him show many surprising similarities with those that have brought and supported Erdoğan in the documentary.

Book hostility, culture and art hatred, and a step-by-step plan to annihilate every opposing group were techniques used by the Nazis. Their meticulous application in modern Turkey today must be more than a coincidence.

In summary, take the time to watch this six-part documentary series that serves as a lesson. Many Turks watching this series will undoubtedly draw parallels with their own realities. Many have compared Hitler to Tayyip Erdoğan, noting that, like Hitler, Erdoğan has suppressed the opposition and has gone as far as to eliminate those who do not share his beliefs.

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