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New Hitler TV Series Under Fire

A 20-million-dollar CBS TV series covering Hitler’s early life and rise to power, to be filmed in Germany, has sparked sharp criticism in the United States.


Critics fear that film on Hitler's youth may create sympathy among young viewers

A $20 million four-part American TV-series on Adolf Hitler’s early life which is due to be filmed soon in Munich and Prague has provoked a storm of criticism in both the United States and Europe.

Based on the first volume of British historian Ian Kershaw’s recent biography, “Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris,” the four-hour series covers the future Führer’s youth in Austria, his service during the First World War and his rise to power. No one has yet been chosen to play the part of Hitler, but the producers are reportedly considering the British “Star Wars” and “Trainspotting” star Ewen McGregor for the role.

Draft script portrays angry young man

Although the producers – the US media giant CBS and a respected Canadian television and film company, Alliance Atlantis – have been careful not to give away too many details of the script, an early draft dated May 31 has been released. It portrays the young Hitler (photo) as a sullen, angry youth who adored his mother and hated his father (who, incidentally, may have been half-Jewish).

Adolf Hitler

But some critics point to the dearth of reliable information on his early years and say the movie is bound to create a certain sense of sympathy, especially among younger viewers for whom World War II seems like ancient history. Many other of the project's detractors simply find the idea of a drama about Hitler's formative years appalling.

"Why the need or the desire to make this monster human?" Abraham H. Foxman, national director of America’s Anti-Defamation League, asked in the “New York Times.” "The judgment of history is that he was evil, that he was responsible for millions of deaths. Why trivialize that judgment of history by focusing on his childhood and adolescence? Have we run out of subjects to focus on?"

The roots of Hitler's anti-Semitism

The script shows Hitler in his 20s as a struggling bohemian, artist and opportunist with a flare for public speaking. It also portrays his early relationships with Jews as friendly.

But Germany's humiliation at the end of World War I and the nation's subsequent political and economic collapse fed his rabid nationalism and led him to attack Communists, Social Democrats and Jews. In particular, the film-makers say they will show how Hitler’s anti-Semitism grew in response to public approval.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, says that by stopping short of World War II and the Holocaust, CBS and Alliance Atlantis are telling only half the story.

"Teen-agers may watch the young Hitler and say he just needed more guidance and attention, he wasn't that bad, if he only had a better home life," Hier told the New York Times. "It creates a kind of sympathy and new attitude toward Hitler."

CBS executives surprised at reaction

CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves has expressed surprise at the criticism, telling a meeting of the Television Critics Association, "Considering the number of dramas done about the Holocaust ... I was surprised it was considered controversial.” Nancy Tellem, the president of CBS Entertainment, said in a statement: "I think everyone's so focused on Hitler and the involvement in World War II and the concentration camps. The focus of Hitler in this miniseries, (is) when he's 17 to 34, his rise to power, the society that allowed this to happen, how Hitler became Hitler. I think it's unbelievably compelling."

Peak time TV and advertising

Berlin’s Tagesspiegel also notes how compelling television advertising revenues are. The miniseries is due to run during one of the so-called “sweeps weeks,” which is when the television companies and their clients try to agree on the cost of advertisements based on viewer figures.

The controversy surrounding the film means CBS could risk a drop in the number of clients buying prime time. But they are already due to air another film involving Hitler - “Max,” about the Führer’s painter friend Max Hoffmann – this year. In addition, the BBC is planning a three-part series on his childhood and youth, too, so it looks as if film-makers will be banking on Hitler for a while yet.