How was the first bit of the U.S./Holocaust documentary?

September 19, 2022 • 7:15 am

Yesterday I noted that the new documentary directed by Ken Burns, Lynne Nozick, and Sarah Botstein, “The Holocaust and the U.S.” had its first airing on PBS last night (there will be three two-hour presentations).  There were a fair number of pre-show comments, some of them degenerating into an argument about the U.S.’s departure from Afghanistan, for crying out loud!

I missed the show because of my ridiculously early bedtime, mandated by the insomnia doc, and because someone with a sleep disorder is not supposed to watch the tube before bed. But I will watch it when they put it online on September 18. Meanwhile, I am sleeping better now, at the price of giving up wine with dinner. That will resume when I’m better.

In the meantime, how was the show? (The first episode is called “The Golden Door”, covering from the beginning to 1938.)

To comment below, you have to have watched the show! I just discovered that you (or perhaps only those in Chicago) can watch the first episode, “The Golden Door”, free by clicking on the screenshot below. B (After September 18, you can watch all the episodes free online, but only for a few days.)

The photo, from the beginning of the episode, shows the Frank family, with Anne on the left, Margot on the right, and their mother Edith in the middle. The photo was snapped by Otto Frank, the only one who survived the war.

17 thoughts on “How was the first bit of the U.S./Holocaust documentary?

  1. It’s not enjoyable viewing, but it’s not supposed to be. Very enlightening insofar as filling in details about the roll-out of antisemitic policies/laws in Germany. Same as to antisemitism in the U.S. I knew about both these phenomena in general terms. I thought there would be more explaining the roots of antisemitism.

  2. It was very much like watching a prosecutor slowly building a case. At the end of ep1, you’ll be shouting from the back bench, “guilty!” It’s pretty effective viewing so far.

  3. I was unable to watch it last night, but recorded it and will watch today. Will comment later, assuming that you’re planning to keep discussing it over the next couple of days as it airs.

  4. I was impressed by the first episode, especially its repeated reminders of our own country’s unconscionable treatment of African Americans, indigenous people, immigrants from eastern Europe and Asia, etc. I look forward to tonight’s installment. As Joe said above, it ain’t pretty, but that’s the whole point.

  5. I found it riveting, even though I was generally aware of much of the historical background. It was overwhelming to see it all put together so cogently. And there were some details covered about which I knew next to nothing, such as the travails of US journalist Dorothy Thompson.

  6. I haven’t watched it yet but I have been in relative frequent contact over the last few yrs with an old HS GF, who is Jewish. I think you could say that she’s more Secular than anything else, but OTOH her father moved to Israel after she and sibs had grown. She started to watch it but had to stop about 30min in since some things well-known to me, like the concept of eugenics, had been unknown to her.

    So that’s just a report from the field.

    1. I didn’t watch past the eugenics part; I was already in a bad mood and needed lighter fare for my aching head anyway. I did notice that a woman interviewed used the phrase “negative eugenics”, preventing certain people from reproducing, as opposed to “positive”, encouraging certain people to reproduce. Nobody thinks much of the difference when discussing eugenics. There is an interesting discussion to be had there, and one that has some interest to me, possibly due to my contrary nature, or just morbid curiosity. I do own Galton’s infamous book, as well as books by Leonard Darwin and another Darwin descendant. What I find really interesting is that most don’t realize that family planning was a cornerstone of the eugenics movement. Birth control and abortion, in spite of this, are typically championed by the left. Likewise, as a society we don’t often encourage people with developmental disabilities to reproduce. But we don’t have this discussion because any mention of the subject typically jumps immediately to racism and nazis. One day I hope to get off my butt and actually do a close reading of these old books I own so I can have a better response to the eugenics=nazis argument. It is a rather bizarre but fascinating piece of history.

      And no, I’m not a eugenicist or a nazi, if that really needs to be said.

      1. Without the Nazis, negative eugenics together with more widespread acceptance of abortion*, infanticide and euthanasia might well have become the norm in Western countries. Yet after WW2, they looked back in horror and turned back to Christian morality that had opposed all these ideas.

        * It’s hard to separate it from eugenics, at least if you are as honest as Peter Singer

      2. You must not know many right-wing Catholics (lucky you). They love to repeat ad nauseam that Margaret Sangar advocated eugenics, as if that conclusively settled all arguments about contraception and abortion.

  7. My reaction to the program was exactly like that of Ken Kukec above. As an aside, I agree with Christopher that the transformation of the term “eugenics” into a negative buzzword, in which the program briefly indulged, is faulty. Today, that line completely omits the fact that Eugenics, in the abstract, was popular on the Left. It was endorsed by the icons of British Socialism, — Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, the New Statesman paper, etc.. H.J. Muller, equally famous for his Nobel prize research on mutation and for his Communist sympathies, addressed the 3rd annual Eugenics Congress in 1932, before he moved to the Soviet Union in 1933. [He got out in 1937, as the climate there was becoming just a wee bit unhealthy for a master practitioner of Mendelism-Morganism.]

  8. You can watch all three episodes now, either online at the PBS website, or you can stream them if you have PBS Passport.

  9. Just finished watching Part I. The age of the people commenting on what they went thru as children in Germany & Austria makes me think that Burns has been working on this for at least 20yrs. Or else this is archival footage taken by others at least that long ago.

    Has it been noted anywhere how long he’s been working on this one?

  10. The phrases “it is said” or “it is believed” should reference who said or believed it. For example, it is believed the earth is 6,000 years old. I hope Ken does better in the following episodes.

  11. The documentary was difficult to watch. The support of Henry Ford and Father Coughlin for Hitler was familiar to me and now seems even more appalling. Some of this was familiar as the history we were taught. I read Eric Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts 6 or 7 years ago so I had a sense of what happened in Berlin as Hitler rose to power. Seeing all the archival film makes for a much more visceral rendering of those times.

    I downloaded a PBS app to watch it. It was free. I will need a day or two between episodes. I am beginning to think if our country fails it will be at the hands of an autocrat without any real political philosophy but who can attract a large following that is willing threaten our government offices and to break down the doors of our Capitol. If some of this mob are military, ex-military, law enforcement or former law enforcement we may be closer than we think. These are people who are sworn to protect our constitution.

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