By Mie Astrup Jensen.
Most of us learned about World War II in school – some several times. I started learning about it when my school invited a Holocaust survivor to speak. I was 11, and I vividly remember that day. Since then, I have had a huge interest in the war. I have watched countless movies and documentaries, and I have visited multiple Holocaust museums. Recently, however, I found the series Hitler’s Circle of Evil on Netflix, and I realised I did not know a lot about his henchmen.
The show uses a mixture of archival evidence, such as photos and videoclips, expert interviews – among them Thomas Weber who teaches at the University of Aberdeen – and re-enactments to dramatize the events.
Starting in 1923 with the infamous Munich Putsch, the ten-part series explores the internal power struggles in the Nazi Party up to 1945. It is a series about power-hungry psychopaths, including Göring, Goebbels, Himmler, Hess, Bormann, Speer, and Heydrich. Göring was the commander of the Luftwaffe; Goebbels assumed the role of propaganda minister; Himmler became the SS chieftain, and Hess was Hitler’s deputy Führer. Bormann was Hitler’s private secretary, while Speer was an architect and later became the minister of armaments; Heydrich, finally, was established as Himmler’s deputy.
An interesting aspect of the series is that we follow the development of their ideology. Gradually, but not without obstacles, the empire develops into a totalitarian regime. For example, viewers learn that there were variations in anti-Semitism within the Party. Goebbels and Himmler were extreme, whereas Göring condemned Kristallnacht – not because of the violent confrontations but because the German economy was weak, and buildings were destroyed. That is not to say he was not an anti-Semite – he most certainly was – but the series identifies a spectrum. Kristallnacht marked the steps toward ‘the Final Solution’. Over two nights in 1938, hundreds of Jews were killed, and thousands sent to concentration camps. The 81st anniversary of this event was marked on November 9th.
This series develops on multiple themes, the primary one being the power plays between different persons in the party. For example, we learn that Goebbels had an affair with an actress and Göring exposed this to Hitler by spying on Goebbels. For Hitler, divorce was one of the worst things that could happen, so he convinced Magda to stay with Joseph. In fact, they were so loyal to Hitler that they killed their children and themselves in the bunker, right after Hitler committed suicide.
A clear example of the way they sought Hitler’s attention was at his birthday parties. Sculptures were made, enormous military parades performed, and buildings and monuments were constructed. Evidently, Hitler’s inner circle was intensely loyal to him, but they were jealous of each other, and at times they explicitly attempted to sabotage each other.
A person I did not know much about was Albert Speer. He was the young architect who designed some of the Nazi buildings. Hitler took him under his wings, and ultimately made him Minister of Armaments and War Production. Speer had no experience with this, which led to confrontations with Goebbels and Göring, who were both jealous of his relationship to Hitler. Eventually, Speer was hospitalised. While receiving treatment, someone (rumoured to be Himmler) attempted to poison him.
Another important thing the series explores is the occupation of Poland in relation to the Final Solution. Himmler and Göring ordered Heydrich to ‘get rid’ of Poland’s large Jewish population. This first led to the establishment of ghettos, and later he ordered the Einsatzgruppen (the killing squad) to murder Jews. In 1942, Czech assassins attempted to assassinate Heydrich by throwing a bomb under his car, but he survived. Later, however, he died in hospital and Himmler launched Operation Reinhard to honour him. This operation was the genocidal mass slaughter of Polish Jews.
While the series effectively captures the domestic powerplay, it does, at times, fail to effectively capture the international development. For example, we rarely hear about international negotiations after the total war was declared. Furthermore, by focusing on just the people who influenced Hitler, at certain points you forget about Hitler’s agency. Occasionally, there is a portrayal of him as someone to impress rather than a corrupt and evil authoritarian leader. Another questionable thing is how intimate details of relationships are portrayed – one can question if these are historical facts or mere fillers for entertainment.
Conclusively, anyone interested in World War II should watch this series to understand the dynamic in Hitler’s inner circle, the political structure of the Third Reich, and as a reminder of what happened in the war.