Einsatzgruppen – The Nazi Death Squads (2009)

5 Nov

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In June 1941 the armies of Nazi Germany invaded the USSR. What is less well known is that in their wake were the Einsatzgruppen, mobile death squads, who in the course of little over two years shot almost 2 million Jews.

Over 4 episodes director Michael Prazan chronicles the activities of the Einsatzgruppen as it carves its way across the Baltic region. Utilising often rare archival footage and numerous eye witness accounts the viewer is taken on a macabre journey of death on a scale previously unimagined.

This was killing carried out with machine like efficiency by men who felt completely justified in what they were doing and it is the insights into what made these killers tick which perhaps sets this documentary apart from being just a  dry retelling of events. The cold logic with which they rationalised shooting children is chilling in its sincerity.
Equally disturbing is the revelation that only a tiny majority of the Einsatzgruppen were ever held to account for the crimes committed. Director Michael Prazan, in the best French humanistic tradition, also delves into the psychological effects experienced by the men of the Einsatzgruppen explaining how many suffered nervous break downs whilst others became even more sadistic as a means of coping with what they were doing.

Whilst the events the documentary explores took place during World War 2 the final few frames serve as a  stark reminder that growing Nationalistic movements worldwide must be kept in check if we are to avoid a repeat of what happened almost 80 years ago.

Although slightly repetitive and certainly not for the casual viewer Einsatzgruppen  makes for an intriguing look into our dark and not so distant past. Recommended.

By Roger Beatson

Documentary 2009
Director: Michael Prazan
Running time: 3 hours 30 mins ( 4× 45 min episodes)

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