NAZI COLLABORATORS: Monday 22nd November
It is a well-known fact that a television viewer is never further than three clicks of a TV remote from a programme about Nazi Germany. The latest history shock-doc is Nazi Collaborators, a programme detailing the history of individuals and groups that collaborated with the Nazis as they swarmed across Europe during the early forties.
This evening’s second episode begins by informing us that in the summer of 1940 the French government surrendered after its already mismanaged and deficient army was easily beaten by advancing German forces. The head of the Vichy government, as it was known, was the pacifist politician Pierre Laval and is the focus of this show. Laval not only collaborated with the Nazis but even provided them with moral support, claiming spuriously that a Nazi victory would keep at bay the otherwise imminent threat of a communist takeover.
Though slow and unfocused in places, the show does a good job of showing the background of Laval, a complex figure whose own motivation cannot be separated from the crisis of the early 20th century.
Laval grew up during the late 19th century when notions of universal morality, civilisation and progress were taken for granted by the educated. The First World War shattered this confidence as well as brutally transforming much of Europe into a graveyard, instilling in Laval a commitment to political solutions over military ones. Thus his capitulation to the Nazis was entirely in character. The preference for politics may be sound during many occasions but can lead to horrific consequences when faced with an existential threat.
Unlike the masterful documentary The Sorrow and the Pity, the show prefers width to depth, charging through the events and largely sidestepping the psychology of collaboration. However the main flaw of the show is a lack of information as to what the alternatives were to certain parts of the ‘collaboration’. Had Laval refused to provide Hitler with thousands of skilled workers or resisted the deportation of the Jews, what would the Nazis have done?
Yet despite protests of helplessness, Anti-Semitism was common around Europe at the period and the show rams the point home that even if the Vichy government had not had a direct hand in the transportation of Jews to concentration camps, Laval and company were at best pitilessly indifferent and perhaps relieved to see the back of ‘the dregs’.
To those seeking a deeper understanding of the situation, the show has moments that are mildly question-begging. To those unfamiliar with the wretched story, this is a good, if unfocused introduction.