Not too long ago I reviewed a couple of documentaries about the JFK assassination, and in both reviews I mentioned how odd I found it that fifty years later we’re still making documentaries about this one incident. My thinking at the time was that pretty much everything had been said that could be said. But now I’m thinking that I missed the point. No matter how much we know or think we know about JFK, we will always want to know more and see knew things about him—and the same goes for Adolf Hitler.
In a way, we are never going to get rid of Hitler, and the reason for this is actually rather reassuring: we don’t understand him. Oh sure, psychologically we can (and have) come up with profiles, historically we can trace the decisions made by and made about Germany that lead to his rise in power, but on a purely emotional level the majority of us can’t understand him: can’t understand that level of hatred, that level of ambition that rolled like a juggernaut over any and everything that stood in his way, and this makes him fascinating.
This fascination extends to those around him. Why would men risk their lives to save this monster? How could some of them consider Hitler a friend? I’ve watched over six hundred minutes of a documentary devoted to just those questions, and I find myself even more confused than when I came in.
It’s not surprising that the German high command surrounded Hitler with layer after layer of bodyguards (at least forty attempts were made on his life while he was in power), but what is amazing is just how poorly run and coordinated these groups of bodyguards were. Outside of Hitler’s inner circle there were several corps of bodyguards supervised by different factions within the Nazi regime, and the only thing they had in common other than the man they were protecting, was an intense dislike of each other. Intense rivalries sprang up between high-ranking officers. Political maneuvering and backstabbing occurred daily, and more than once they would have failed in their task if not for blind, stupid luck.
Even Hitler didn’t hold any faith in his bodyguards. He adopted early on a fatalistic attitude about his chances of surviving an assassination attempt—basically that what will be, will be, to quote the old song, and he seems pretty well justified considering how close some of the attempts came to ending his miserable life. While I was watching this series I couldn’t help but think of something Napoleon said: “I feel myself driven towards an end I do not know. As soon as I shall have reached it, as soon as I shall become unnecessary, an atom will suffice to shatter me. Till then, not all the forces of mankind can do anything against me.” Hitler seemed to occupy such a rare position in history. I mean, how else could he have survived forty assassination attempts? Luck seems too arbitrary and destiny too blasphemous.
You won’t find the answers to those questions in this DVD set, but what you will find is an incredible history recounted in almost exhaustive (perhaps I should say exhausting) depth. Hitler’s Bodyguard is a fascinating look at the men who were closest to Hitler, and by examining them, you get a powerful—albeit indirect—look at the man as well. Looking at the almost cartoonish complexity of the system of competing bodyguards is almost a bonus to this insight into one of history’s greatest monsters.
I should warn you, though, that this is loooong series, and at times it can be exceedingly dry. As near as I can tell the research is excellent, but the presentation of that research can try even the most hardcore of history buffs. Watching it in one sitting—hell, one weekend—is out of the question, but if you can take the time to watch it at a leisurely pace, I think you’ll find it well worth it.
Each episode is presented in 4:3 full screen with the audio in Dolby Digital stereo. Since the majority of the footage shown comes from Nazi films and photographs, it can be a bit grainy at times, but nothing out of the ordinary for a historical documentary. All in all, this was a good production.
20-page Viewer’s Guide – I really liked this bonus. Along with episode summaries, the guide also includes “questions to consider,” “avenues for further learning,” “Who’s Who among Hitler’s bodyguards,” and a “guide to Hitler’s security units.” There’s enough information here to teach a full semester just on Hitler’s bodyguards, and I find that very cool.
Killing Hitler in the Movies Filmography -This one I liked better as a concept than in execution (if you’ll pardon the pun). The filmography is a set of placards describing movies in which Hitler has been killed. It’s actually quite a bit to read, and took up more time than I would have liked.
Photo Galleries – After watching what must have been miles of footage of Hitler, I really didn’t feel like sitting through a photo gallery of—you guessed it!—Hitler. It’s fine in theory, but I was Hitlered out by this point.
I can’t come up with a comical unit of measurement to describe just how much information is in this set. This is an amazingly detailed look into Hitler’s inner circle, but that can be a downside as well as a bonus. This is well worth a look if you’re a history buff, but as I’ve made clear, you’re going to have to devote a huge chunk of time to some very dry material. Consider yourself warned. Recommended.
Acorn Media presents Hitler’s Bodyguard. Running time: 611 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: February 02, 2010. Available at Amazon.