My reviews for this post are both series I watched via Netflix. One for general interest, the other for Holocaust studies.
1. Murder Maps, Seasons 1-3 (2015-2017) [12 episodes]
This BBC program(me) tells the tales of some of England’s most notorious murderers. The first three seasons move historically from the 19th century to the 1950s. What makes it interesting to me is how it talks about the development of investigation strategies and social issues alongside the gory details of killers from George Smith, the bigamist who murdered multiple wives in their baths, to John George Haigh, the “Acid Bath Murderer.” The show is slow-moving and superficial, repetitive in images and words, but I enjoyed seeing forensic science develop alongside attitudes toward gender, class, criminality, and the death penalty. Bored? Give it a go.
2. Charité at War (2019) [6 episodes, in German with English subtitles]
~LITE SPOILERS AHEAD~
This German production is actually a second season of the series Charité, about the famous Berlin hospital. The first season (which I haven’t watched) takes place in 1889, while the second takes place in 1945. I very much appreciate the focus on the characters, mostly doctors and nurses who challenge the simple binary of perpetrator/victim. By this time in the war, the Jewish hospital staff and patients are long gone. There are loyal staff, proud of their “Aryan” designation, but most of the characters we meet are sick of Hitler, sick of Nazi policies, and sick of war.
The program intersperses fictional characters among famous historical figures, including the pioneering Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch and would-be Hitler assassin Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.
I like that the series focuses on children at the hospital, with special attention to some doctor and nurses’ naivete regarding the moving of children with mental and physical disabilities to “safer” facilities out that are actually transports to death camps where they will be gassed. Also addressed is Paragraph 175, the law against homosexuality, ramped up by the Nazis to include such choices as castration or imprisonment (sometimes in concentration camps).
How these important issues are addressed is more problematic for me, as this relies almost entirely on the mode of melodrama. We meet a couple in which the husband is a doctor, second only to the children’s hospital’s chief of staff. His wife, who begins the series quite pregnant, is studying for her medical degree at the Charité. When she gives birth, they find their baby might have a disability. The melodrama in this personal crisis played out within Nazi efforts to rid the world of what Hitler called “useless eaters” goes into high gear. Similarly, we meet her brother, a soldier who visits his sister and stays on at the hospital, continuing his studies in medicine and avoiding the front for as long as he can. He turns out to be gay, and then we start the lesson on Paragraph 175 through this personalized lens.
I’m also less than thrilled by the portrayal of villainous Nazis in the show. Two characters stand out from the more complex bystander types. One is the female zealot stereotype Nurse Cristel, with her blonde hair, blue eyes, and big mouth. She spies and snitches and earns retribution. I see no way not to relish the carefully filmed moments of her humiliation and her ultimate fate. The other villain is the male sadist type, head of psychiatry Max De Crinis (based on a real individual). He is slimy and scheming and positively delights in condemning soldiers who may have wounded themselves to get off the battlefield.
Ultimately, I saw some areas of focus I have not seen in other films or series, and it is good that such work is coming out of Germany. Less Hollywood-style emphasis on melodrama and Nazi stereotypes would have been welcome, but I’m definitely glad I watched it. Recommended.