“How could anyone have collaborated with Hitler and the Nazis?” asks the DVD case for Nazi Collaborators. Lots of reasons, it turns out. Some opportunists saw collaboration as a way to gain power and status in their Nazi-occupied countries. Others, living under Stalin’s reign of terror or British colonial rulers, decided to back the enemy of their enemy. Some did it to save their families’ lives. And many, of course, enthusiastically believed in what Hitler was doing.
Even with well-trained and equipped soldiers, the Third Reich could not have occupied so much territory for so long without thousands of non-Germans enthusiastically supporting the occupiers. Nazi Collaborators, a 13-episode documentary series that originally aired on the Military Channel, examines this often overlooked side of the Second World War.
Nazi Collaborators features a wide variety of Hitler’s men in Europe and beyond, including politicians like Norway’s Vidkun Quisling (whose own name became a synonym for “traitor”), Irish Republican Army members who backed the Nazis against the hated British, and pro-Nazi militia whose savagery rivaled even the Waffen-SS. (A surprising omission: William Joyce, aka “Lord Ha-Ha,” the most notorious English-language Nazi radio propagandist.)
The stories in Nazi Collaborators are told mostly through archival film and documents, with occasional interviews with the participants and commentary by historians, and much of the material is enlightening and surprising. The episode about Quisling, for example, shows just what a buffoon the notorious Norwegian was – his prewar attempts to start a pro-Nazi political party went nowhere, the men he sent to “assist” the Germans on the Eastern front couldn’t fight, and Hitler was forced to divert much-needed troops to Norway to prop up his puppet government. A British newspaper cartoon from the period shows Quisling cowering under a bed.
The most startling and shocking episode — the one that most effectively shows the sheer madness of National Socialism — is the one about Germans of Jewish descent who chose to fight for the Third Reich. German Jews were so integrated into German society that the Nazi government needed a system to determine who was and wasn’t a Jew: basically, if you had 3 or 4 Jewish grandparents you were considered fully Jewish, while people with one or two were deemed michlings – literally, “mutts” whose rights were severely curtailed. The government even came up with creepy flowcharts to explain it all.
Michlings could still serve in the armed forces, however, and many of them (mostly practicing Christians, some of whom had no idea they had Jewish ancestry until the Nazis told them) volunteered to serve the country they loved — even though, privately, they had misgivings about the Fuhrer. Eventually even “first-degree Michlings” — Germans with two Jewish grandparents — were forced out of the army, leading some to rely on faked birth records to continue serving. Hermann Georing, head of the Luftwaffe, went even further, and pulled some strings to have one of his michling deputies (and a fanatical Nazi) officially declared a “full-blooded” German.
And then there’s one German Jew — not just a michling – who actually joined the Waffen-SS and served on the Eastern front. He tried to joinin the regular German army while living in occupied France, but the Wehrmacht had no recruiting offices nearby. The SS — which openly sought, and enlisted, many non-Germans — did, and before long he found himself serving with the soldiers carrying out the worst atrocities against his own people. Astonishingly, he is interviewed for the series, and justifies his participation to this day.
Nazi Collaborators is an absolutely riveting series which shows just how so many were seduced into serving the Third Reich, contributing to the unspeakable evil that led to millions of deaths throughout Europe. It deserves a better DVD set, though. This four-disc set includes no special features — no deleted scenes, no commentaries, not even any written material. The contrast to the World at War box set I reviewed a few years ago is striking.