TV Review – “Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine”

[Originally posted at Blogcritics]

The new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has started some promising steps toward reform, but for that country’s religious leadership, old habits die hard. The “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently tweeted this:

Khamenei might be uncertain, but history is not, even as research about the Holocaust continues. Forensic archaeologist Dr.Caroline Sturdy Colls, for one, received permission to dig at the site of Treblinka, one of the Nazis’ mass-murder factories on Polish soil. This expedition, and the dark history of Treblinka, are the subjects of Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine, premiering this weekend on the Smithsonian Channel.

Active from 1942 to 1943, Treblinka was an important site for putting Hitler’s industrialized genocide – millions of people being murdered in for the crime of being Jewish or otherwise undesirable. At first, the Holocaust was carried out with firing squads, but the pace of execution was slow and psychologically difficult even for hardened SS killers.

The solution: large gas chambers, cruelly disguised as bath houses, in which thousands of Jews could be murdered by gas in just 25 minutes. The use of Zyklon-B gas would come later; for now the Nazis used carbon-monoxide from tank engines, which worked so efficiently for their “euthanasia” program.

Even the delusional Nazis knew the end was near by late 1943, and that the noose awaited them once evidence of their crimes was brought to light. So they razed the Treblinka death camp to the ground, frantically destroying and burying as much as possible before the Allies showed up. The camp commandant fled to Brazil, where he lived in peace until Simon Wiesenthal tracked him down in 1970.

That proved the be the Nazis’ final gift to their Holocaust-denying followers, who argue that Treblinka was just a “transit camp” for Jews being deported. (Deported to where, they never tell you.) After their work is done, however, Dr. Colls and her team leave no doubt about what this site was used for.

Despite the Germans’ best efforts, they couldn’t erase all evidence of their crimes, and the archaeologists turn up jewelry, hair combs and false teeth; tiles from the gas-chamber with Stars of David imprinted on them, to fool the condemned prisoners that they were being taken to a Jewish ritual bath house; building foundations, showing that the camp was even larger than previously thought; and even a young child’s jaw bone, a find that leaves Dr. Colls overcome with emotion.

Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine also features disturbing video – some of it in color – from the camp and the doomed Warsaw ghetto, and eyewitness accounts from the few people who were lucky enough to survive. Perhaps the most shocking moment comes when we hear the words of one of the Nazi top brass, who described his own death camp as a literal Hell on Earth. Alas, instead of making his question what he was doing, this convinced him to “streamline” the extermination process.

There have been so many documentaries about the Nazis’ “final solution” that some people speak of “Holocaust fatigue.” Surely, by now, we know everything there is that can possibly be told about Hitler’s genocide, right? Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine shows that we still have much more to learn. You want more “research” into the “alleged” Holocaust, Supreme Leader Khamenei? Well, here it is.

Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine premieres on Saturday, March 29, at 8:00PM Eastern on the Smithsonian Channel.