This new Ken Burns miniseries feels unfortunately timely. With the richest man in the world tweeting anti-Semitic memes fairly frequently, it feels timely. With the state founded in part to atone for this genocide currently engaged in a form of apartheid itself, it feels timely. With some Americans openly embracing Nazism, it feels timely. And it is worth your time.
Though this miniseries does tread over some similar ground to The War, and likely uses some footage and interviews from it, it’s focus is on the Nazi persecution and the American response to it. (I haven’t watched The War since it premiered so I didn’t recognize whether or not they reused footage or interviews but some of these interviews have to have been done in the past given that we’re at 80 years since the events.) Though I have seen and read a fair amount about the Holocaust and American politics in the 20th century, there was still a lot here I didn’t know (and some I had forgotten).
But even if this is a familiar topic, there is still value in this topic and in this particular national focus. (If only we had a Canada and the Holocaust miniseries.) I was talking to friend the other night about whether he should watch Shoah and I said absolutely, I think everyone in the world should watch it, and better yet at an impressionable age. But this framing is more relevant to most North American viewers and they do make the connection, if briefly, to the present. But the point is we shouldn’t and cannot forget this happened. And though I know the broad strokes and some specifics, I needed this reminder and I learned a lot, particularly about US immigration policy at the time.
It uses the Holocaust story most familiar to North Americans, that of Anne Frank, as a framing device and through-line for part of it, which I was was a particularly deft touch. If there’s one thing Americans who don’t know much about the Holocaust know about it, it’s Anne Frank. But that’s just a minor part of the story, and the American response to it and the continuing horror are woven together as well as you would expect them to be by Burns and his collaborators.
Essential viewing, I think.