On June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. His goal: to contain Great Britain in the West and gain "Lebensraum (Living Space)" in the East. "This is an entirely new kind of war, with unprecedentedly brutal rules," says historian Moshe Zimmermann. The Nazi regime gradually advanced its "final solution to the Jewish problem", hiding in the shadow of war where task forces executed tens of thousands of Jews behind the front lines. Under German rule, collaborators organize pogroms against Jewish residents in the occupied territories, and experiments begin in concentration camps to make the killing even more efficient.
Whilst the Russian offensive is stalling, Japan launches an attack on Pearl Harbor and the USA enters the war in the Pacific and Europe. The prospect of a quick victory for Hitler is over. The decision to deport the German Jews triggers a chain reaction that accelerates the genocide. The soldiers bring reports of mass shootings from the battlefield with them. Their knowledge of what was happening in the East was more widespread than they admitted after the war: "We didn't know anything about that" - self-deceit.
Helmut Machemer, an ophthalmologist who volunteered for the Wehrmacht took part in the campaign in the Soviet Union. He wanted to earn an Iron Cross through bravery, which would allow him to protect his wife Erna and their children from persecution according to the Nazi racial laws. Machemer's plan works, but he does not survive the war. Yet he leaves behind a legacy of unique footage and photographs from the front.
What facilitated the rise of the Nazis?
With this 10-part documentary series "The Abyss - Rise and Fall of the Nazis" ZDFinfo is using the power of film to take a stand against ignorance towards the past. The project tells the story of the rise and fall of National Socialism from an international perspective, examining the causes of the rupture in civilization at the hands of Germans, which led from a crisis-ridden democracy to war and genocide.
Rare, and newly discovered film and photo footage, as well as 40 field-leading experts such as Richard J. Evans, Mary Fulbrook, Peter Longerich, Moshe Zimmermann, Alexandra Richie, and Götz Aly, offer new perspectives on the history between 1918 and 1948.
Based on the latest research, the series focuses on both the motives of the perpetrators, but also on the responsibility of a significant portion of the German people What facilitated the rise of the Nazis. What paved the way for the genocide of the Jews? This is the story of how humanity's darkest hour took place. The Abyss.