A still of Settela Steinbach from the film shot at the Westerbork transit camp

The confusingly named BBC history series The Rise of the Nazis has reached the period after the Second World War. It looks at the Nuremberg trials and how the rulers of Britain, the US and Russia dealt with leading fascists.

It contains extraordinary footage, including the film shot at the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands. This shows the Nazis preparing to move hundreds of Jews and others by rail to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Shot by a camp inmate, it is the only example of such direct filming and is somehow more powerful because it has no sound. It shows the calm, clinically bureaucratic way that everything was organised. But it also includes the haunting image of a girl staring out from a railway car.

Although the BBC does not tell you, we now know she was nine-year-old Settela Steinbach, rounded up as part of a Sinti-Roma group. The Nazis gassed her in Auschwitz.

But the series has an almost complete lack of real economic and political context for the events it describes. Instead, various “experts”—some interesting, some with little knowledge on display—are assigned to talk about particular individuals who feature during the events.

This has endeared it to right wingers. The Telegraph newspaper enthused, “If only the BBC would show more proper history documentaries like this”.

The series shows the Nuremberg trials as unproblematically a way of delivering justice, although it questions how Albert Speer avoided a death sentence.

But Nuremberg wasn’t about justice. As the trials ended in 1946 the revolutionary socialist Bill Hunter wrote how many who had supported the Nazis, including top industrialists, were allowed to escape. The trials, he said, were a farce designed “to convince the world working class that once the Nazi leaders pay their reckoning, the account is closed. It is an attempt to shift the blame they share completely onto the shoulders of the Nazis.”

The series is also evasive about the treatment of other Nazis after the war. It cannot avoid admitting that the US in particular simply transferred fascist monsters into its Cold War spy and military network.

We see Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon” and one of the most blood-soaked Nazi sadists, protected and paid by the US secret state forces. He was embraced to transfer his knowledge of eliminating Communists.

But there’s not enough about how systematic this was. The US moved Wernher von Braun from developing Hitler’s V2 rockets to designing ballistic missiles for the US army and then heading space programme research.

He was part of Operation Paperclip involving 1,600 Nazi scientists, engineers, and technicians. Reinhard Gehlen, a senior Wehrmacht officer on the eastern front during some of the most appalling crimes of the war, was imported to lead a CIA-funded anti-Soviet organisation. He then became the founding president of the West German spying operation.

It was a deliberate policy of forgetting by the West to cover up fascism as a crime by capitalism and big business as well as the Nazis. It was part of a process of enabling the system that had spawned fascism to continue. As part of this the German authorities for decades suppressed the history of the Holocaust.

Meanwhile the British had set up the “London Cage” torture centre to interrogate a fairly random selection of Germans. Some were Nazis, but they also included the anti-Nazi Otto Witt. A Communist who the Nazis tortured in Buchenwald was tortured again by the British.

And apparently without any sense of shame, one of the leading experts in the series is himself a war criminal. General Sir Michael Jackson tells us about the Nazi murder of civilians.

Jackson was present during the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre when British troops shot dead 11 unarmed civilians. He was second in command of the paratroopers who on Bloody Sunday in 1972 stormed into the Bogside and killed 14 civil rights marchers. Jackson was directly involved as the killing went on around him. He was also the main architect of the cover-up. The hypocrisy and lies didn’t end with the West’s treatment of the Nazi criminals.

The Rise of the Nazis is on BBC iPlayer

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