Sunday, May 18, 2014

#1,371. How Hitler Lost the War (1989)

Directed By: Robert Denny, David Hoffman

Starring: Norman Rose, Adolf Galland, Hans Adolf Jakobson

Tag line: "Told from veterans on both sides of the War"

Trivia: This documentary was narrated by Norman Rose

For years, I’ve heard that Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany came close to winning World War II, yet I had no idea how close until watching this documentary. Several times over the course of the war, the Germans were poised on the threshold of victory, only to have it snatched away by the one man who assured them they would prevail.

Narrated by Norman Rose, 1989’s How Hitler Lost the War features plenty of archival footage, some of which is quite disturbing (along with the image of dozens of murdered Ukrainian peasants, hanged for their resistance to the German occupation, there’s a brief clip showing the Allied invasion of Normandy in which a soldier running across the beach is gunned down). Yet it’s the interviews with former German soldiers that offer the greatest insight. One of the men interviewed, Johannes Steinhoff, was a member of the Luftwaffe and among the most decorated German fighter pilots of the war. With his face badly deformed (in 1945, a plane he was piloting crashed on take-off, resulting in burns so severe they landed him in the hospital for 2 years), he tells of how well respected Hitler was at the beginning, and, ultimately, how he failed as a leader (Steinhoff played a role in what became known as the Fighters Pilot Conspiracy, when several high-ranking Luftwaffe officials, believing Hitler’s decisions were costing them the war, staged a protest against the Nazi High Command).

Aside from its analysis of strategies and key battles, How Hitler Lost the War also delves into the early life of Hitler himself, how he was a poor student, and, according to those that knew him, a lazy young man who often slept ‘til noon (a trait that stayed with him throughout his life; during the D-Day invasion, Germany was slow in moving its troops closer to the action because Hitler was asleep and left strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed). It wasn’t until after World War I, when he joined the little-known Socialist movement, that Hitler found his true talent: public speaking. Delivering speeches all over the country, he railed support for what was to become the Nazi party, and eventually rose to the position of Chancellor of Germany, and then, shortly after, Dictator.

Despite his meteoric rise, Hitler proved himself a poor military strategist, and How Hitler Lost the War shows us just how bad he was at it. Many are aware of his most critical mistake: fighting on two separate fronts; one in the West (against the allies), the other in the East (after he broke his treaty with Russia and invaded that country). Yet even here, the film tells us Hitler might have conquered Russia had he not purged the Ukraine (its citizenry despised Stalin, and initially greeted their German invaders with open arms. If Hitler had taken a different approach there, the Ukrainians may have joined with him in fighting the Communists). But while his actions were often ill-advised, it was Hitler’s inaction that ultimately lost World War II for Germany, chief among them his decision to shelve a major technological advancement in aerial combat, one that could have easily changed the course of the entire war.

Admittedly, I’m not well-versed in the history of World War II, so the information presented in How Hitler Lost the War was an eye-opener for me. But I’m convinced even those who’ve studied the conflict will find something to their liking in this well-produced, informative documentary.

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