In her documentary film "How 'Holocaust‘ got on television", the director Alice Agneskirchner reconstructs the special production conditions and the tremendous social echo of the American family saga "Holocaust". The four-part original series was screened on German television in 1979 under the title "Holocaust - The History of the Weiss Family". It heralded a turning point in dealing with National Socialism and sparked a heated controversy. In the run-up to the broadcast in Germany, there was already passionate debate in the media about the production. Critics feared the trivialization of history.
The documentary traces the difficulties that the "Westdeutscher Rundfunk" (WDR) and in particular its head of television at that time, Günter Rohrbach, had to get the series on TV in Germany. The film also shows numerous excerpts from the original series as well as the reactions of the audience, which exceeded all expectations: viewing figures of nearly 40 percent, tens of thousands of calls during the night and piles of mail from the audience. Director Marvin J. Chomsky and producer Robert Berger, both of Jewish descent, talk about the stressful atmosphere during the shooting. The actresses of mother and daughter Weiss, Rosemary Harris and Blanche Baker, meet again for the first time after the shooting and they talk about the importance of the work for them. Other actors, including Michael Moriarty and Erwin Steinhauer, return to the filming locations, such as the gas chamber of the former Mauthausen concentration camp.
The series portrayed - in a highly emotional way - the fictional stories of two families: that of the assimilated German-Jewish doctor family Weiss, who lives in Berlin. And parallel to that, the family story about the lawyer Erik Dorf, who adapts to the new political conditions and rose to the position of an adjutant to SS leader Reinhard Heydrichs in a short time. Concerning the Weiss family, the audience witnessed every stage of the initial exclusion and disenfranchisement of a respected family of doctors, right up to their deportation and murder in the gas chamber.
Never before, films or television programs had portrayed the genocide of the Jews so vividly from the perspective of the victims. The American TV series brought the term "Holocaust" to Germany and Europe. With its meaningfulness, it also entered the debates of the German Bundestag, which in 1979 finally discussed the statute of limitations for Nazi war crimes. The Society for the German Language elected "Holocaust" 1979 as word of the year. Today it is used as a synonym for the systematic extermination of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
The broadcast of the series triggered intense discussions in many families about the responsibility parents and grandparents had during the Nazi era. The film explores the questions, feelings and effects that still play a role today. The 1970s were characterized by a rigid family and social system, the post-hippie era, two oil crises and the left-wing terrorism of the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion). "Holocaust" hit a sensitive nerve, led to reflection in all social classes and for the first time - 34 years after the end of the war - enabled a kind of emotional catharsis.
To date, "Holocaust" is one of the most successful TV productions worldwide, it has won eight Emmy Awards and has been sold in over 50 countries. Media and history studies have dealt with it again and again since then. Now, it has been over 40 years since the first screening. What significance does the series have for our present time? In what way did the series "Holocaust" and the resulting social debate shape us?
Camera: Ralf llgenfritz
Sound: Ulla Kösterke
Montage: Viola Rusche
Additional Cameras: Ben Hardwicke, David Kalisher, René Kirschey, Moritz Bauer
Assistant Director: Corinna Volkmann
Sound mixing: Raimund von Scheibner
Spieldauer: 89 Min.
hrsg. von: Hanfgarn & Ufer
© HANFGARN & UFER Filmproduktion