In History's two-part, four-hour Special Presentation: THIRD REICH, rare and never-before-seen amateur footage tells the epic story of the Third Reich as it's never been told before: through the eyes of the people who lived it. A unique perspective on the rise of Nazi Germany and how millions of people were so vulnerable to fascism, told through rare and never-before-seen amateur films shot by the Germans who were there. How did the Germans experience the Allied victory in WWII? Rarely-and never-before-seen amateur films recount the catastrophic downfall of the Third Reich through the eyes of the people who lived it: the Germans themselves.
As a slimmed-down history of Nazi-ruled Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, The Third Reich offers a stylish and engaging look at the rise and fall of a nation. Comprised entirely of vintage film clips shot by Russian troops, journalists, German citizens and others, it's a visual tour-de-force of a terrifying era. Divided into two 90-minute halves ("The Rise" and "The Fall", each given their own DVD), The Third Reich reminds viewers of the horrors of war, the dangers of a totalitarian government and the fragility of human life.
"The Rise" makes a bold statement early on, but it doesn't quite follow through. It promises not to be "an account of Hitler's rise to power, but the story of why the people gave it to him"...but really, it's an account of Hilter's rise to power. The "why" is never explained very well: it's assumed, of course, that his meteoric rise from WWI veteran to Führer was simply due to his iron will, ruthless political tactics and charismatic presence. In any case, what's here is still invaluable: we're told the story of a nation hit hard by The Great Depression, Hitler's failed presidential campaign in 1932 and his appointment as Chancellor just one year later. From there, Hitler's dominance was assured by Germany's Enabling Act---and with it came the forced control of his Nazi political party. The Nazis opposed democracy, communism, Jews, homosexuals, the mentally handicapped and those who weren't from northwestern Europe. In short, even those Germans who opposed the Nazi regime still had to follow Hitler's lead...or suffer the consequences.
"The Fall" mostly chronicles WWII from 1939 through 1945, after Germany invaded Poland under false pretenses. The German Army was nearly unstoppable during the first few years, conquering much of Europe; raw materials were stolen for Germany's benefit and foreigners were used as slave labor. Their attempted invasion of The Soviet Union, however, proved to be too much: the Germans eventually faced tremendous losses as Allied forces began to gain momentum, leading to increasing air attacks on Germany itself. As WWII---and, of course, The Third Reich---came to a close, Hitler committed suicide. Yet "The Fall" (and "The Rise", of course) give us more than a brief history of these events: through home movie footage, newsreels and narration, we get much more of a "you are there" feeling during The Third Reich, which proves to be quite effective.
As a whole, this two-part documentary has a habit of repeating its formula a few times, but it definitely earns points for painting a more stylized picture. There are no "talking head" interviews during the three-hour presentation---and even though a few segments of the more traditional narration are a bit melodramatic, The Third Reich certainly does more right than wrong. Originally airing on The History Channel, this two-disc package is relatively slim but still worth looking into. Let's take a closer look, shall we?