- Good evening, I'm Sylvia Bugg, chief programming executive and general manager at PBS.
Thank you for joining us for tonight's conversation on the Holocaust and authoritarianism part of a series of events leading up to the broadcast of the US and the Holocaust.
The new film by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein.
The series will air starting September 18th and then resume with episode two on Tuesday, September 20th and episode three on Wednesday, September 21st, the three episodes will stream on all PBS platforms time to the premier.
The film examines the rise of Hitler, and Nazi-ism in Germany in the context of global antisemitism and racism, the eugenics movement and the United States and race laws in the American south.
The series written by Jeffrey Ward shed's light on what the US government and American people knew and did as the catastrophe unfolded in Europe, including the rise of authoritarian governments in Europe, and how Americans thought about and responded to them.
Tonight, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick will join Michael Abramowitz, president of freedom house in a conversation moderated by Julia Loffe of Puck.
Tonight's conversation along with the one we had on September 8th on refugees in the Holocaust will be archived at pbs.org/kenburns.
We will begin with a clip that examines Hitler's rise to power.
You'll then be joined by the panel.
(upbeat music) (soft music) - [Host] There are some events so tragic, We think we'll never forget, days pass lives pass, and the lessons we vow to learn pass away with them.
It takes work to keep stories alive, to paint a picture of the past and help the next generation move forward together.
So we never forget.
(soft music) - [Announcer] The city of Hildesheim in Northern Germany was home to some 1000 Jewish families.
Julia Stern owned a small shop.
His wife Hedwig was the daughter of a well to do merchant.
They had three children.
Their oldest was Gunther born in 1922.
- [Gunther] My mother was a absolute luminous woman and she could write German verses for all occasions and was praised as a poet laureate of our family.
I had a neighbor boy who was my best friend on the slim basis that both of our names were Gunther.
His family was not all that conservative as Protestants.
And we were not that observant as Jews.
- [Announcer] But to Hitler, all Jews were clanish, stateless, subhuman leeches, who drained the strength of every country in which they lived.
From his cell he promised to one day make Germany free of them.
And by so doing restore Germany's greatness.
Victory in that struggle, he said, demanded military might, Aryan fertility and racial purity.
He would seek to destroy the power of what he believed was a worldwide conspiracy.
At the same time, he dreamed of reclaiming German territories and waging a war against the Soviet union that would simultaneously destroy what he called Jewish bolshevism and win for Germany the layman's realm, living space, to which he believed it was entitled.
- [Peter] Hitler saw the expansion of Germany into Eastern Europe as foreshadowed by what we had done in North America.
The expansion of the white people of the United States across the continent from east to west, rushing aside, the people who were already here and confining them to reservations.
- [Announcer] The immense inner strength of the United States Hitler said came from the ruthless, but necessary act of murdering native people and hurting the rest into cages.
- [Timothy] He saw us as a way that racial superiority is supposed to work.
The higher races conquer the territory.
So if anything, the attitude before the war was an attitude of a certain admiration.
- [Announcer] Hitler hoped that just as the Americans had conquered the wild west, his Countryman would conquer the wild east, Eastern Europe and the Soviet union.
Our Mississippi, he said must be the vulgar.
Germans would sweep aside those who inconveniently, occupied those lands polls and other sluvs as well as Jews.
Much as native Americans had been swept aside.
When Hitler was released from prison in December of 1924, the fledgling Vima Republic that had been born at the end of the great war was finally coming into its own.
Berlin, its capital and largest city home to one third of Germany's Jews had become the intellectual and creative center of Europe.
Expressionism on canvas and on the movie screen, Bowhouse architecture and American jazz , scientific advancement, and avant-garde music, sexual freedom and leftist politics.
Berlin represented everything Hitler hated, and hoped to destroy.
- Thank you so much to everybody for joining us.
Thank you so much to Lynn and Ken and Sarah for making an absolutely extraordinary and riveting film and a very timely one.
Thank you to Andrew as well for joining and provide, oh, sorry, Michael, for providing expertise.
I wanted to start with Lynn and Ken.
I've watched so many of your films and they always tackle an event from history, Vietnam war, prohibition that seem very far away, but they very subtly get at comparisons to the present.
And I wanted to ask you why this and why now?
Why the Holocaust, which is a pretty well tried topic.
How did this film come about?
Why was this the idea and why now?
- Well, let me first address the first part of your question.
I'll let Lynn do the second half.
First of all, thank you, Julia, for hosting this, we are huge fans of yours and are very excited to be involved in this conversation this evening.
You know, we've, every film we've made has, in some ways resonated in the present moment, human nature doesn't change.
Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.
And our discipline is filmmakers is to make sure that we just attend to telling our story in the past, trusting that those rhymes will be self-evident that we don't need to sort of isolate them and put neon signs or big arrows pointing to look isn't this so much like today, but almost everything that takes place is very much like today human behavior remains the same in all, its good in all its bad ways.
And so with this film in particular, I think we were stunned over the course of making it at just the extent to which it was resonating with the present.
And I think nowhere than in the rise of antisemitism and racism, xenophobia and nativism around the world, but also a kind of flirtation with or direct interest in authoritarianism.
And so I think that brings us to this moment.
As for the film itself, let me yield to Lynn to talk a little bit about its early history because Mike is a large part of that too.
- So the Genesis of this project really is that, you know, for Ken and for Jeffrey Ward and for Sarah Botstein and myself, we've been interested in American history.
We've studied the second world war.
Ken and Jeff made a beautiful film about the Rosevelts.
Certainly the Holocaust as an event in the history of the 20th century, something we've been extremely interested in and studied on our own.
And as part of the projects we've worked on and in 2015, Michael Abramowitz who's here tonight, who was then with the Holocaust museum in Washington, approached us because they were developing an initiative to study Americans in the Holocaust and to try to connect the dots between what happened overseas and what was America's response.
They were gonna do an exhibition and a whole big educational initiative that would last many years.
And they wanted to know, we would consider making a film that would tackle those same questions.
And we absolutely jumped at the chance to work with the museum and with Mike and the team there, the curators and the researchers, the archivists, and to learn from what they had learned to share what we had learned and they went ahead on their process and we went ahead on ours.
Their exhibition is, has already been up for several years.
I urge anyone here to go to Washington and see it.
And we, you know, just took the ball and tried to run with it and to explore the questions of what did the American people know, when did they know it?
How did they know it?
And what did they do about it?
What was their response from the top to the bottom of our society?
And really for our conversation tonight, this question of what was it like to be living in a time when authoritarianism was on the rise, fascism was gaining strength in Europe, certainly, and also here as a threat.
And so, you know, looking at that story while the world was changing around us was quite a profound and life changing experience.
And we're very grateful to Mike for bringing us to this project in such a direct and fantastic way.
So thank you.
- The matchmaker.
- Can I just follow up though?
Can I ask, what were the years when you were working on it?
When did you get started?
What were the years?
- Yes, I should have said.
So we first started talking with the museum in 2015.
So Barack Obama was president, their exhibition opened in 2018 and we were working on it, you know, since 2015, but we really began sort of more full time all the time working on it for the last four years.
- So I noticed Tim Snyder appears many times in the film and he like many of us who have reported on and studied authoritarian regimes, both past and present, you know, sounded the alarm many times over the last few years, since 2015 with the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. And I'm wondering in the course of making this film, and again, there were so many parallels to today.
The rise of, or the reemergence, 'cause it's not the rise, right?
As you point out, it was always there.
It says, as you say in the film, it's says American is apple pie, the reemergence of native, the reemergence of the white replacement theory, which you nod to very clearly, all these things that were always there, kind of reemerging.
So clearly, so unabashedly in American life.
Were there moments while you were making this film during the past seven years where you just had to pinch yourself and kind of, I don't know.
And you know, wonder how this was all happening again.
Oh most definitely.
I think that, as I said before, that there hasn't been a film that we've worked on where we haven't been aware of that connection, the kind of echoes from the present moment back to the past or vice versa, however you would like to see or feel that.
And we've always assiduously.
And in this case as well, focused on mastering our story, you know, our six and a half hours has, you know, maybe 30 times that much material that we've had to sift through and deal with and understand, but there became a very uncomfortable urgency about this film.
In fact, it was due to come out next year and we accelerated the process after the one six invasion of the capital, the insurrection, and just felt that we needed to join the conversation.
There's a moment in the film where the great Holocaust historian and scholar Deborah Lipstadt says the time to stop a genocide is before it happens to which I've added the idea that the time to save a democracy is before it's lost.
And we can see the fragility of our democratic systems here, things that, you know, Benjamin Franklins that are Republic, if you can keep it.
And for 245 years, we've done a pretty darn good job of keeping it, even in the midst of great stressful crises, like the civil war, the great depression, which overlaps with this story.
And of course the second world war, which overlaps as well.
But right now we find just the things we've taken for granted, the oxygen we've breathed as American citizens about free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power and the independence of the judiciary and sort of the bedrock institutions that have formed who we are, are now under complete assault.
And it, they are...
It was so worrisome that we felt that we were obligated in a way.
I hope Lynn I'm speaking for you too, that we were obligated to join in this discussion as early as we could be to sort of say, we're seeing a lot of smoke, we're pulling the fire alarm.
It isn't yet fire.
We're not equating this with the Holocaust.
We are just saying that within the context of a study of authoritarianism, in the context of how great nations fail we are at peril, and it is important for us to do what we do best, which is tell stories about the American past to share our concerns about this present and to show what are in some ways, startling in eerie as you're alluding to not coincidences, but rhymes, Mark Twain would say from the story of the rise of Adolf Hitler, and, what's been going on in this country and indeed around the world, this is not uniquely American phenomenon.
Of course and so we're, we're thinking in larger global terms about it, but that's it was a heartbreaking story of course, to try to get to the bottom of, but also terrifying in many ways as well.
- I actually thought...
So this is a question for Lynn.
I thought it was interesting that in a film that was about the Holocaust, which is a very Jewish story, it is a Jewish story.
You brought in a lot of historians who were not Jewish, who were black, who were Asian, who were Irish, who tied all of this in the virulent antisemitism in America at the time with the racism at the time in America, with the genocide of native Americans at the time, it seemed like a very modern, for lack of a better term, a very modern documentary in the sense that it wasn't just Jewish voices telling this story.
I thought that was a really interesting choice.
Can you talk about that a little bit?
I wanna give a huge amount of credit for that to Sarah Botstein, our partner, that was something she championed very specifically in our, on our team.
And we completely agree that it was the right thing to do.
This is a human story.
This is the victims of the Holocaust are the Jewish population of Europe that was eliminated ally and horribly.
But as human beings, we need to understand it.
And as Americans, we wanted to understand how our own ideas, our own culture, our own ideology, our own hierarchies, all these things, are part of the mix of ideas, influencing Hitler, which we saw in the clip, you know, what he admired about us and what he, what lessons he took from our history.
And also to understand that when, you know, the time came for the United States to criticize Nazi Germany, we didn't have such a great leg to stand on given our own history.
And so the Germans could look to us and say, well, you treat a whole group of people in your society as second class citizens, that's what we're doing.
And we even, you know, came there and studied exactly how you do it in terms of our Jim Crow laws.
So, you know, there's just a context here and there's a dynamic and it's fluid.
And so it's not so simple to say, we're over here and we're the good guys and we're perfect and we're exceptional.
And we never do anything to be, you know, criticized for and over.
There are the evil monsters.
And, you know, it's just...
There's a lot more nuance and complexity here when we want to have as many different voices as possible, help us unpack all of that.
And fueling this authoritarian debate, of course, in the United States, is this seduction of eugenics, which is this simple pseudoscience that is trying to create a hierarchy of race and nationalities and ethnicities, which is a complete and utter fiction, but people buy into it.
And it's part of the authoritarian playbook to speak to the otherness of people.
That's the central thing that you do is you create a them so that the us can be angry.
And what I think is clear and why the film is populated and also made by not just Jews, but Gentiles as well.
It's populated, as you said, with a variety of people is 'cause there's only one race and that's the human race.
And this story is all of our stories.
And it's super important to sort of cohere together in a unified stand against these impulses of othering of telling people that the real threat, the reason why we lost the first world war that Hitler said was because people inside the Jews, you know, sabotaged us.
And this is the beginning of the a, you know, the dehumanization of the other.
- I wanna ask one quick question before we get to our next clip, that will, I think, lead us into it.
But I wanted to talk about this idea of American exceptionalism that you get at in the film.
And in the very beginning of the film, you kind of lead in with this site, this idea of taking a hard look at our history and which again, feeds right into the discourse that we've been having in our country for the last few years of are we strong enough to speak honestly about our history and do we have to continue whitewashing it and patting ourselves on the back and telling us that we're the anneloid good guys, and that we're always on the right side of history to cohere as a nation.
That's generally so far, you know, in the US, and this discourse has been a story about the native American genocide about slavery and segregation and so forth.
It was interesting that you took that discussion Lynn, as you said, and made it an international one that, you know, the US hasn't always been on the right side of history.
- I mean, we, you know, I think we wanna celebrate the things that we can celebrate.
And we wanna look honestly at the past and tell the truth to ourselves about things that have happened so we can move forward in a healthy and productive way.
And I think we all believe America's capable of that, that we can do that and that we need to do that.
And that if we are stuck in this alternative reality that you just described, I don't see how we can understand our present or our past it's, you know, that's the mythologizing of history, the whitewash and sanitizing simplifying all those kind of words.
'Cause in world war II, right?
The US was the anneloid good guy versus the bad guys.
And this is a much more complicated story.
- No, it's no, that's exactly what I was gonna say.
You know, we call the second world war the good war.
It is the worst war ever.
Our chapter, the first chapter of our film Lynn and my film on this, we called it unnecessary war is one of the pilots that we interviewed described it.
There wasn't anything good about it.
It was in fact the worst war, the most number of deaths, the greatest cataclysm in human history.
And I think as we're enjoining this, you know, too often, we find ourselves indivicive postures and we are making arguments to each other and the arguments don't do anything.
The only thing that can do that is to overcome them.
The novelist Richard Power says is to tell a good story and a complicated one and a nuanced one that is able to engage all of these things.
The tendency is to be kind of binary.
Well, if you're saying that we're not exceptional, that we must be bad.
So you're saying we're bad.
We're saying no, these things, we are a nation of immigrants.
We have been a nation that has welcomed people.
And there are times when we are not that.
And it is important in storytelling to be able to accept and do that.
I mean, I.F Stone, the progressive political writer, I.F Stone was asked by an accolade how we could possibly admire Thomas Jefferson, right?
For all the kinds of arguments and discussions we're having today.
And Stone said to him, because history is not melodrama, it's tragedy, right?
In melodrama, it seems to me that all villains are perfectly villainous and all heroes are perfectly, you know, virtuous.
That's not the way it works.
And so you end up with a country founded on the ideal that all men are created equal, a second sentence of a declaration written by a man who owned hundreds of human beings, that's tragedy and that's human life.
And you cannot proceed forward.
You cannot even assume any mantle of exceptionalism unless you're willing to tolerate those kinds of contradictions, that kind of undertow.
Otherwise it's just a melodrama and it's fiction.
- And, you know, to bring it to our topic for tonight, it seems like that's how we get into authoritarianism.
I'd be curious what Michael has to say about that because it's just that kind of, you know, lies and propaganda basically mythologizing that is so dangerous.
- Well, if I just may interject one thing and thanks for having me, Ken and Lynn and Julia.
What was going through my head about American exceptionalism when you ask that question Julia is the link between what's happening in our country and what's happening around the world.
'Cause I do profoundly think that there's a link.
And I think as Ken has done in many of its films, you know, America has these incredible founding ideals and the story of American history is our struggle to live up to those ideals.
You know, the part of this movie, which is so brilliantly told is about our struggle to live up to those ideals in a perfect, in, a certain period of time.
But what I find important to just emphasize is that for all the mistakes we've made, and there have been many catalog in many of the films that these do have worked on, including the Vietnam story, you know, people do look to America, immigrants want to come to America, not to other countries.
People expect when America is up to those ideals, that is the best thing that we can do for the cause of global democracy.
And honestly, I know this may sound corny, but if America does not live up to those ideals, the cause of global democracy is gonna really be set back.
And I worry about that.
So there's a direct link between the two that we need to be reminded of.
And that I think is really brought forward in this film.
- All right.
Let's put a pin in that and go to our next clip.
Let me tell you, just set it up a little bit Julia.
The Hitler that we met in the last, in the opening clip is a Hitler who is dreaming of the future of, Germany and what it would mean from a jail cell, because he's been involved in a kind of coup attempt and insurrection, I guess, and he's, you know, plotting this vision of Germany.
Now things have moved ahead and we're in a position to sort of catch up with him a little bit later in our story.
So that's the second clip.
(indistinct music) - [Announcer] The great depression spread relentlessly around the world.
In Germany, more than a third of the adult population was without work.
Parliamentary democracy seemed powerless to improve things.
The Weimar Republic was teetering.
Governments came and went.
The search for scapegoats intensified.
In the chaos, Hitler saw his chance.
(speaking in foreign language) In 1928 the Nazi share of the vote had been less than 3%.
By 1932 theirs was the largest party in Germany, but still not large enough to form a government.
To appeal, to moderates the Nazis downplayed their antisemitism, and they stepped up street warfare against socialists and communists to convince voters that civil war was imminent.
Then a small group of elite conservatives stepped in and on January 30th, 1933 saw to it that Hitler was appointed chancellor, confident that they could control him.
We have hired him one of them told a friend in a few months, we will have pushed him so far into the corner that he will squeak.
They had misjudged him.
- [Timothy] The people who brought Hitler to power didn't necessarily share all of his ideas.
In fact, they didn't.
But what they did believe was that we can't have democracy anymore because if we have democracy, then the left and the labor unions, they're gonna take all of the power.
So the people who brought Hitler to power were conscious and aware, and desires of doing away with democracy.
- [Announcer] Within two months with the ruthlessness that stunned supporters and opponents alike, Hitler bullied the parliament, the Rike Stag into granting him the powers of an absolute dictator.
The morning after Hitler took power, local Nazis, staged victory marches throughout the country in Hilda sign, the Stern family's apartment overlooked the parade route.
- [Gunther] We stayed home.
And my parents said, don't even look out the window.
And at the very tail end of that parade for my classmates, my father called my brother into our, what was called the gutashtuba, which was the best room in the apartment.
And he said to us, sit down, boys, I have something to tell you.
And what he said was don't stick out.
He who sticks out, gets stuck.
We took him seriously.
He said, be like invisible ink.
In other words, what you are will someday come out again.
But at this time fade into the crowd.
- [Franklin] I Franklin Delano Roosevelt do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.
- [Announcer] The United States had a new leader that winter too.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as the 32nd president on March 4th.
The economic situation had steadily worsened since 1929.
So steadily that some Americans on both sides of the aisle urged the new president also to assume dictatorial powers.
In his inaugural address, he assured Americans that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but he also warned that if all else failed.
- [Franklin] I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis fraud, executive power, to wage a war against the emergency as take as the power that would be given to me, if we were in fact invaded by a foreign quo.
(audience cheering) - [Announcer] His wife Eleanor remembered that she'd found the crowd's enthusiastic reaction to that line a little terrifying.
- So I too found that a little terrifying, but also predictable.
It made me think of January 6th, as you Ken mentioned, and all of the commentary that day, which was, this is America.
This is not who we are.
And I'm used to seeing this in Russia or in be Burkina Faso.
This doesn't happen in America.
Well, you know, it happened.
And there was inter I'm actually looking at it right now.
There was a poll that was just published by Axios the other day, that one third of Americans say today that they prefer having a strong unelected leader than to having a weak elected leader.
And the extent to which democracy is almost unnatural, hard work and authoritarianism is a kind of easy default into which people can slide.
The way in which your film kind of addresses this kind of, and I would say knocks down this idea of American exceptionalism that we just have democracy in our blood and that we just always default toward democracy.
I thought that was a really interesting thing to show.
- I couldn't agree with you more.
It's so frightening that statistic of 30% sounds awful.
- 33% sounds like awful lot, like the Nazi share of the vote.
And then you see what kinds of things you do.
The sort of creating of big lies, the blaming of others, the stepping up street warfare, convincing people you're on the verge of a civil war, which is therefore require a strong leader.
You know, it's so interesting that I have Stone's friend Thomas Jefferson also in the declaration really writes rarely clearly that mankind is inclined to suffer tyranny.
It is the hard effort as you're suggesting to make the hard work of democracy work and that the seducing tones of getting the trains to run on time is sort of built into us.
And that democracy becomes a kind of conscious effort to outgrow what is often a default human position.
And so I think this is why this story that we're trying to tell is so critical for the heartbreaking tragedy at the heart of it, but also for all of these ingredients that suggest how incredibly fragile things are right now in the United States, which I cannot believe.
I just said what I said.
It made me think again, watching this film made me think again, of your film prohibition, which I watched, unfortunately in 2017, I remember it being so shocking because it had some of the same themes about the rural conservative white, religious minority against the urban heavily immigrant majority.
And that this minority was able to push through a constitutional amendment.
That's really hard to do.
And I remember watching that in 2017 and thinking they're gonna do this again.
And I thought about that when, you know, they overturned Roe V Wade with a six, three majority, even though it's clearly a minority.
- Well just look at the conservatives who support Hitler, right?
Not only do they think they're gonna control them, does that sound familiar?
They're and he, and he, you know, humiliates all of them, but there is a sense that they are perceiving that they're about to lose power, that there is going to be a dominant, as we would say today, progressive majority.
And that the only way to maintain power is to subvert the processes of majority rule, which we are seeing in all the attempts to steal the election and all of the, undermining of the institutions and all of these things.
This is just, you know, as the song says the same old story.
- Julia, if I may say one thing about that clip, you know, it's interesting to me that both Roosevelt and Hitler took power about the same time, and that's kind of captured in the clip.
At the time, you know, democracy was really not the default position in the world.
There were maybe a handful of democracies, you know, today we have more than a hundred democracies.
And, you know, we, we're now in a position of wanting to fight, to keep what we have as opposed to trying to gain it.
But what's interesting to me is that both America and Nazi and Germany were in the early thirties among the most advanced democracies in the world.
Germany turned dark.
You know, Hitler basically became a dictator within several months.
You know, quickly dismantled the apparatus of the VMar Republic, which had come before him.
On the other hand, America was under great stress.
America was faced in the greatest economic calamity of its really its history.
It flirted with radical ideologies like communism and fascism.
And yet the institutions held Roosevelt did not try to seize that power that he had kind of so tantalizingly held out that he might seek in that speech he gave.
And so I think that's a really important point that that democracy is fragile and that it has to be fought for and that the institutions have to hold.
I think one thing that's very heartening about what happened in 2020 is that despite everything bad and there's a lot to bad that happened, the institution's held.
- The question for us today is whether the institutions will continue to hold.
- That's right.
- I have a question later for you about institutions and the role they play.
'Cause I feel like in this film, they play quite an inciduous role and in the US you're seeing, I think the latest statistic was that in November 60% of Americans will see an election denier on their ballot.
That also says something about institutions and the extent to which they can be infiltrated and controlled.
But let's put that aside.
I have a feeling, this question is for Michael and for Lynn.
So far, the audience has seen Gunther who is an unbelievable character.
He is so heartwarming and tragic at the same time, but he's not the only survivor you interview in the film.
And it was striking to see at this late date when so many survivors have left us already, when the memory of the Holocaust is fading in part, because they're mostly gone.
Where did you find these survivors?
And is this a function of how early and how far back you started the filming this?
Well, whenever we started a project, that's gonna deal with something that happened some years ago.
The first thing that we do and say about Sinai and I spend an enormous amount of time on this with our producing team is finding people whose stories we can, you know, collect.
And the Holocaust museum was extremely helpful as well as some of our scholars.
And you know, we look for people who could help us understand different aspects of the way that the story of the Holocaust and the story of America were intertwined.
And so in the case of Gunther, we wanted to find somebody who escaped from Europe and came to the US a man, and then went back to fight in the American military against the Germans.
And there's number of people who experienced that.
But as you said, not so many are alive because you had to be of military age during the war Gunther Stern was 98 when we interviewed him.
- And he's now 100.
So- - Still Alive?
- Everyone is still alive.
- And that was, we interviewed him in March of 2020, right before, literally days before the entire world shut down.
So we're so grateful that he was willing to come to New York and do that interview for us and share his story.
And it is an epic and tragic arc and also full of life and hope.
And that he's still here and bearing witness to the things he saw and experienced and what happened to his family.
And so, and then we, you know, we look for other people who could represent other aspects of this.
Family separation is a huge theme in this, from this time period.
And we met a brother and sister who were separated from their parents.
Parents were in Germany, they got their children, two of their children out with a smuggler to France, not knowing that they'd ever be reunited.
And then the war came and a lot of chaos and upheaval and trauma for the family.
And ultimately they were reunited, but it's not a simple happy ending there either.
And then we, the story of the St. Louis is extremely important iconics story of the Holocaust and it's connection to the United States as well because the ship full of refugees came very close to our shores.
Having been turned away from Cuba, where they were trying to go.
And even though they didn't have visas to come to America, they tried to get into the United States and were turned away.
And that became quite a cause for many Jewish people around the world as representing America's turning its back on refugees.
And we found a man who was a child on that boat.
There's not very many survivors left of the St. Louis saw messenger, who now lives in Buffalo.
He shared a story with us.
So we were trying to fill in particular aspects.
And there's another one I could speak about too.
But anyway, each person had to kind of fulfill a certain role in a way in telling the story, but not to say we knew what to expect.
We just were looking for people who could sort of put us at different points of the compass if you will.
But to be able to find the people who filled those roles at such a late date, who were still alive is incredible.
- And let me say Julia.
I think that's the interviews with the survivors to me are the most powerful parts of the film, you know, and sadly, you know, this is not gonna be possible in 10 to 15 years.
And I think it's an important point here because there's already people who question the Holocaust.
There's people who question every genocide, that's what you learn.
And, you know, Eisenhower was actually so concerned about it.
And there's a clip of this in the movie that he, you know, orders his top brass and to come see the degradations at the concentration camps because he foresaw a time when people would question that this event actually happened.
And so that's why it's so important to capture these voices right now, because believe me in 50, 100 years, there's gonna be an effort to deny that this happened, there already is.
And I think that's what's so powerful about those voices in this movie.
And there has been for decades, unfortunately, and I think it will only grow.
So I think we should go to our third clip.
Do you wanna set that up?
So we spent most of the first two clips with Hitler and Germany and the transformation of Germany briefly coming back to the United States for the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt.
And as Michael said, you know, this is takes work to maintain a democracy.
And in the United States, they're not without stressors and divisions and competing ideologies.
So the third clip is really just about an America, you know, torn on the bias in much the same way we are right now, divided in opinions about how we should be conducting ourself with regard to the international situation, which is epitomized by the developing peril, towards the Jews in Germany and indeed in the increasingly, the ever increasing third strike.
- [Charles] I speak tonight to those people in the United States of America who feel that the destiny of this country does not call for our involvement in European wars.
We must- - [Announcer] There was another voice on the radio now too.
The voice of the only American whose fame approached Roosevelts, a celebrated aviator, Charles, A.Lindberg.
His message was very different.
- [Charles] These wars in Europe are not wars in which our civilization is defending itself against some Asiatic intruder.
This is not a question of banding together to defend the white race against foreign invasion.
We must not permit our sentiment, our pity, or our personal feelings of sympathy to obscure the issue, to affect our children's lives.
We must be as impersonal as a surgeon with his knife.
- [Announcer] Lindbergh had first visited Germany in 1936, that the invitation of the American military at TACHE in Berlin, who was eager to glean information about the fast growing Luswafa.
He returned two more times.
The Nazis did everything they could to impress him, awarding him the service cross of the German Eagle and Lindbergh was impressed.
He admired the regime's virility and emphasis on order.
His wife, Anne thought Hitler a very great man maligned by what she called Jewish propaganda.
The couple had even considered moving to the leafy Berlin suburb of Vanse until Christal knocked, made them rethink.
My admiration for the Germans is constantly being dashed against some such rock as this Lindbergh wrote privately.
I do not understand these riots.
It seems contrary to their sense of order and intelligence.
They have undoubtedly had a difficult Jewish problem, but why is it necessary to handle it so unreasonably?
On his voyage home from Europe in 1938, Lindbergh had been irritated by the number of Jewish refugees among his fellow passengers.
Imagine the United States taking these Jews in addition to those, we already have he'd written in his diary.
There are too many places like New York, already, a few Jews add strength and character to a country, but too many create chaos.
And we are getting too many.
This present immigration will have its reaction.
- [Charles] Our bond with Europe is a bond of race and not of political ideology.
It is the European race we must preserve, political progress will follow, racial strength is vital.
Politics are luxury.
If the white race is ever seriously threatened, it may then be time for us to take our part in its protection to fight side by side with English, French, and Germans, but not with one against the other, for our mutual destruction.
- [Announcer] If I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this.
The president told a friend, I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi.
For the next 27 months, Franklin Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh would engage in a bitter struggle over whose vision of the country would prevail.
And about the future of Western civilization itself.
- You know, this is not the first time I'm seeing these scenes in it.
They still shake me to my core.
And I see you, Ken and Lynn, and I see you shaking your heads too.
They're still incredibly hard to watch.
And I wanted to ask about this.
This film seemed to me a searing indictment of American isolationism, which we're seeing.
We see reemerge periodically, and we are seeing it emerge again now.
And we're seeing people question whether the US should provide military aid or any kind of aid to the Ukrainians.
For example, in fighting Russia, we saw it in, you know, whether we should help Syrians, whether we should take in these people who are, who look different than us, who have a funny religion that we don't like, you addressed it in your film, Vietnam, right?
Where we kind of tend to spend our energy on the wrong wars and when the right ones come around, we're suddenly very conflicted about it.
And I wanted to ask you to articulate maybe even more clearly what you were trying to say with this film about American isolationism.
- Well, I'm not sure we were trying Julia to say something in the idea of advocating for a certain political point of view.
I'm troubled by it because I think in storytelling, you receive everything new again.
And you begin to realize that Charles Lindbergh is imprisoned by the eugenics ideal, that there is some fundamental distinction that he wishes to make about the white race and its superiority and everything else is subservient to that.
And he will serve that and to its most absurd and dangerous and consequential conclusions.
And I think It is no accident that he will later become the chief spokesman, one of the largest anti-war, there's nothing wrong in being anti-war, a movements in American history called the America first.
Just as an America first movement has restarted with similar kinds of things.
And with similar baggage and the baggage of Lindbergh was this idea that Jews were at the heart of the manipulation of the Roosevelt administration, of the American media.
And this attempt to draw us into a war in support of Britain when he, you know, had such admiration for the Germans and, you know he will do this, for months and months and months and have many people beside him.
It's interesting though, we live in an age where there seems to be shamelessness.
It's impossible now to say something that that is possible to arouse an opinion that will shame the person as perhaps McCarthy was by the lawyer for the army in the McCarthy hearings.
And by the fact that at a speech in Des Moines, Iowa Lindbergh goes too far in his virent antisemitism and there is uniform left and right, you know, condemnation of him.
And very shortly thereafter, the United States is drawn into the second world war.
One of the great gifts, of course, for Franklin Roosevelt was Pearl Harbor.
And the even greater gift was a few days later when Nazi, Germany declared war in the United States, because everything that he knew had to happen could now happen and Lindbergh disappears into the woodwork is desperate to get a military commission to defend the United States and Franklin Roosevelt, because he told his friend that is determined for him not to have that commission.
And he does not have it.
It is one of the, you know, it's a victory for the good guys in this regard, but the closeness that we come to this peril and we see it all the time now, and there's no guarantee that the game is gonna come out with the same score as Mike has been saying.
- Well, I don't, I just wanna be clarify real quick.
There is nothing wrong with being against war and I'm against- - Not at all.
But what I mean is the way it's portrayed in this film is that it's a bit of a, a hardhearted isolationism that you're seeing in the, not just in Lindbergh, but in the American population that why should we save these people?
We don't like them.
We don't wanna take them.
And the Germans are saying, look, you don't want them either.
That's what we're saying.
Nobody wants them.
So why don't we (beep) Sorry.
Why don't we deal with these people?
And there's a hardheartedness to this isolationism.
- I think there's two.
I think Mike is gonna jump in, but there's not wanting to fight the war and there's not wanting to let refugees in, and they're not quite this.
They come from similar in different places.
So I think we might wanna unpack that a little bit because the resistance to letting refugees in there was no refugee policy.
So there was just an immigration quota system and, you know, that was it.
And there was really no getting around it.
And the ways that that was not modified to address the crisis is not- Isolationism is part of it, but it's not the only, there's other issues there.
But, you know, I'm really drawn to what Michael said at the beginning about how, you know, if democracy is destroyed overseas, that can blow back here.
And if democracy here is threatened to blows overseas too.
And so I just would love to hear what Michael has to say about that.
- Well, thank Lynn.
And I think the point about isolationism, which I think is actually captured by a great quote from Deborah Lipsett in the movie is it was incredibly naive about the nature of Hitler and also the threat that having an entirely dictatorial continent, essentially in A, in Europe that would opposed to America.
And this is an important history, especially to freedom house.
We're a pro-democracy organization.
We were founded during this period because a number of important people, including several that made a cameo appearances in this movie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Wilke, who ran against Eleanor's husband in 1940, also the brilliant journalist, Dorothy Thompson, they recognized about the threat that was over there in Nazi, Germany.
And they knew that if it was not confronted that America would pay a heavy price.
Roosevelt, I think knew that, but he was constrained by politics.
And it really was really only after Pearl Harbor, that he could really marshal the army that was gonna be necessary to defeat the Nazis.
But one point about isolationism, the Lindbergh clip really points to the antisemitic parts of things, but there were other reasons for the isolationism .
Roosevelt took office in the greatest economic calamity facing.
If he had like turned to dealing with what was happening in Nazi Germany, he would've been thrown out of office and also America was deeply influenced by what had happened in world war I, and that had been a terrible, terribly violent affair.
And just think again today, the influence of things like Afghanistan and Iraq on public opinion.
So it's more complicated than just antisemitism, but that played a major part, particularly in not allowing Jewish refugees to come through the United States.
- So to the point about Jewish refugees, I thought it was fascinating that the film started actually not with Hitler, not with FDR, not even with one of the survivors you interviewed, but with Anne Frank.
And what I didn't know about Anne Frank was that her father had actually applied for US visa.
- Many years before his daughters and his wife died in a Nazi concentration camp.
And as we know, obviously they were not successful.
And hundreds of thousands of other European Jews were not successful.
And this gets back again to institutions and systems and how they kind of keep a certain status quo in place.
They kept slavery in place.
They kept this system in place.
I thought that was incredibly interesting that this aspect that even Anne Frank, the Anne Frank story kind of tied in to the US.
- Well, I think that, that's the thing that's different about it.
There's been new information that's emerged that have detailed the extent to which Otto Frank, Anne's father had tried to get to the United States.
And so here you take a very familiar trope of the Holocaust story, which is Anne Frank's diary.
It is often the point of entry for many people, particularly students today is through that, that book and her diary, remarkable diary.
But again, in America's sense of, well we didn't really know what was going on.
We, you know, Anne Frank is, is over there, but we're saying, no, no, no.
She could be living here today.
We don't wanna be, as Lynn says, counterfactual about this, but you know, he had Otto Frank had everything going for him.
He had means he had dotted every I, he'd crossed every T. He had contacts in the United States, well to do context and those well to do people had contacts within the Roosevelt administration.
And because of this, you know, implacable state department filled in places with anti-Semites or people who certainly didn't want anybody coming into the country or refugees coming into the country, they slow walked this thing, they changed the rules, they raised the bar, they moved the goalpost and people were not allowed in including the Franks until their application with 300,000 others burned up when the Germans bombed Rotterdam and the American consulate went up in flames and, they weren't allowed to get here.
And we know the rest of the story, but I think it's interesting to see that there was a possibility they fit perfectly within the quota system.
They had done everything that they were supposed to do, and they were still unable to come.
And it seems to me that that at the heart of this story is the story of refugees.
That is to say what's happening today.
And I mean, today, when last, yesterday, the authoritarian in practice in short pants in Florida sends Venezuelan refugees to Martha's vineyard to sort of own the Dems to just, to make them playing politics in this cruel cynical completely un-Christian, which he claims to be gesture.
And in fact, it backfires, right?
Because not only do the people of Massachusetts reach out to Martha's vineyard, reach out to try to support these refugees.
But in fact, we've learned over the course of today that the white citizens councils of many of the Southern cities, people who are members of the Ku Klux Klan, or certainly support the Ku Klux Klan used to send black Americans by bus north many, many times in a way of kind of taunting that and using human beings as sort of political fodder.
And it is that shamelessness repeats itself throughout our histories.
And it's just, you know, it's, it requires just this eternal vigilance and really time to call these things for what they are.
- You know, one point if I made Julia that the movie while it's dark has points of light in there.
I mean, to me, some of the most moving parts of the movie were the stories it told of Americans who stood up in the face of this antisemitism and the face of this kind of apathy about what was happening.
And they went to Europe to try to save Jews.
Very fry rescued several thousand Jews from France, the war refugee board, which is really an untold story outside of few holicast you know, was created and, and helped send Raoul Wallenberg to Hungary to save tens of thousands of Jews.
So it's an important reminder that we have a capacity, we have agency to fight these trends.
And there were Americans who stood up and they should be celebrated and their story should be remembered.
And we should be inspired by them.
I just wanted to say, I know we have to end, but I wanted to mention, I thought it was, I was really touched to ask to moderate this panel because I'm a huge fan of Ken and Lynn's work.
But, you know, as a Soviet Jewish refugee myself, as Gall Beckerman laid out in his incredible book, when they come for us we'll be gone.
A lot of the movement to free Soviet jewelry, which was run out of the US was motivated by America's Jews and American's sense of guilt that they had abandoned European jewelry to their fate in world war II.
And there was a sense that we shouldn't let this happen to the Jews that were left in Eastern Europe.
And so my family and I are direct beneficiaries of the lessons that were learned by the Jewish community and by Americans that story.
But ironically on my, as I got off my flight today, I'm in LA right now, I ran into Nury Turkel, who's a writer and an a Uighur activist who was arriving in LA to receive an award from a Jewish organization for his work, documenting the Uighur genocide in China.
And here's a another, and his book parallels the kind of the comparisons between the Holocaust and the legal genocide.
And, you know, and then here you have this other example of the world, kind of not doing all that much with this other genocide unfolding in front of us.
And then the Rohija, genocide unfolding, and us not doing all that much.
I know Michael, your former employer has done a lot of work on other genocides that don't involve Jews all over the world, but it just made me think of how we have in some ways learned our lesson.
But in some ways we just keep repeating the same mistakes.
We just let, we're like, well, the rules, well, you have to get line, well, you have to fill out this paperwork.
Well, we don't have the laws.
Well, Congress, well, what can we do?
It was kind of sad to see all of that, to run into Nuri and to see, to remember that all this is still playing out, even today.
- We're happy that you're here and a voice of reason and sanity in the midst of this.
- [Julia] Thank you.
Well, thank you for an incredible film.
One of many that you've made, but this one really just was really stunning and incredibly, just incredibly important and urgent.
Thank you so much for making it and for rushing it out and sharing it with the world.
Thank you for inviting me to moderate this panel.
It was really an honor.
Thank you to everyone who tuned in and seriously do not miss this film.
It is three episodes.
They're all worth watching every single minute.
Seer it all into your memories.
It is incredible.
Thank you so much.
- Thank you.