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Case Number 21789: Small Claims Court

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Chronicle Of The Third Reich

PBS // 2010 // 200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // July 16th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia has seen so many World War II documentaries he thinks nothing significant happened after 1945.

The Charge

Embark on this unique journey through the bleakest chapter of German history.

The Case

You might be forgiven for thinking this is redundant. After hundreds of DVD and TV documentaries about the Nazis and World War II, what could possibly be left to say? Interestingly, Chronicle of the Third Reich focuses on aspects of the Nazis that other documentaries tend to leave out: How did the government actually function? How did it find money to finance its programs? How did it make decisions? This may seem like a dry or incomplete way to approach this story, but it actually ends up being genuinely revelatory and fascinating.

Chronicle of the Third Reich mixes archival footage with interviews with historians and authors, most notably Sir Ian Kershaw, author of a well-known biography of Hitler. There are no interviews with surviving Germans, Jews, WWII veterans, or any other witnesses. There are also no reenactments or battlefield maps; this isn't that kind of show. Director Michael Kloft has made several previous TV documentaries on this subject (such as Television Under the Swastika) and he demonstrates here that when he finds an approach that works, he can deliver an excellent summary of this story with a unique perspective that even history buffs will find enthralling.

For instance, one of the most significant points that the documentary makes is that the Nazis' policies were so economically disastrous for Germany that they essentially forced Hitler to invade and annex other countries, such as Czechoslovakia and France, just to pay off the debts he incurred. There is a detailed description, for instance, of a program by which Nazi soldiers could transfer money out of occupied France into Germany that was actually a scheme to force the French government to pay off Germany's debts. To illustrate it, the documentary shows rare and previously unaired footage of Nazi soldiers cavorting in Paris. It's one of the ways that the documentary skillfully combines previously unreleased footage with new perspectives on this subject. Even if you've seen several documentaries of Nazi Germany, this is still worth seeing for moments like this. It demonstrates a lesser-known but no less damning side of just how corrupt the Nazi regime was.

Interestingly, Chronicle of the Third Reich doesn't focus so heavily on the actual Holocaust itself. That's not to say it ignores it or glosses it over, but it doesn't focus exclusively on it. Again, it focuses more on how the Nazis put together their plans for ostracizing and forcing Jews out of Germany. Another revelation that Chronicle makes is that initially the Nazis were more interested in forcing Jews to leave Germany for other countries so that the government could seize Jewish assets for economic purposes. It wasn't until Germany started invading other countries that the Nazis realized that deportations would be too expensive and time-consuming and began to plot out the idea of death camps and mass executions. Here, as before, there is rare footage of Jews being forced to sign over their properties and being forced onto ships bound for other countries. This is an interesting perspective because it demonstrates that the Nazis' policies were, more often than not, improvised and cobbled together from the various ideas and theories of subordinates jockeying for power within the regime. That Germany allowed itself to be led by such a fundamentally unstable and fraudulent government is, as the historians interviewed point out, an indication just how damaged the country was and how little hope it really had. There was never really a chance, Chronicle makes clear, that Germany could have ever won the war, no matter what Hitler proclaimed, because the government was simply too disorganized and unreliable. It's another mark of this documentary's skill that you can understand that clearly after watching it.

Chronicle of the Third Reich, then, is an excellent Nazi history, combining the best of historical analysis with documentary footage to make a series that even viewers used to WWII programs can enjoy. Some may find that it shortchanges a couple of key areas (battles and survivor stories key amongst them) but those are covered in so many other places that it hardly seems necessary. Moreover, the techniques that Kloft uses here, such as ironically contrasting Nazi propaganda footage with raw unreleased footage of what actually happened, are illustrative of his central thesis of how the Nazis used deception to wield their power and how the German people allowed themselves, for various reasons, to be deceived and led to ruin. It may not be the definitive account of this story (if such a thing can ever truly exist) but if you're at all interested in history, it's worth seeing.

Technical specs are standard: anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, stereo mix, both satisfactory. The archival footage can look a bit rough at times, but that's to be expected. There are no extras.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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