These are the men and women who saw it all. Extraordinary, powerful first-hand accounts of the Second World War. Tales from Auschwitz, Special Operations, war correspondents, resistance fighters and the Jewish Brigade reveal personal experiences of war that shatter all illusions.
A British prisoner who survived Auschwitz and describes his life there. An undercover agent captured by the Nazis, whose prison camp experiences were used to indict war criminals. A British soldier tortured by the Gestapo who lived to become a dedicated Nazi hunter. A war correspondent who inadvertently stumbled on preparations for the invasion of Poland. A fighter with the Jewish Brigade, torn between humanity and army regulations. An undercover resistance fighter who time and again braved the Germans face to face. Featuring rare archival footage and photographs, these stories and others provide an intense and valuable human document of the war, unlike any seen or heard before.
Produced by the LAB for Discovery Networks Europe MCMXCIX
Part 1: Escape from Auschwitz
Taken prisoner during the African campaign, Arthur Dodd was one of the few prisoners of war to find himself dispatched to the hellish concentration camps of Auschwitz. A witness to the inhumane treatment of prisoners by the Nazis, he managed to take part in a prison escape and assisted Polish partisans in sabotaging the camp’s generator. Recaptured and returned to the camp, Dodd would later be forced to participate in the ‘death march’ as the Nazis retreated from the advancing allies, attempting to destroy any evidence of their acts before leaving. The horrors witnessed and endured by Dodd were only magnified when he returned home to a disbelieving nation. Leon Greenman, a British Jew in Auschwitz at the same time as Dodd, offers his own powerful testimony of the time.
Part 2: Resistance Fighter
Born Guido Zembsch-Schreve in Switzerland of Dutch parents, the man whose codename would be Pierre Lalande spoke Dutch, French, German, and English. In Britain, Lalande was recruited by the secret service in operation at that time, and tested with the entrapment of a female traitor. His success in this role led to his assignment to France, where he soon set up an escape network that would save hundreds of lives. Lalande was captured and deported to the slave labor camp of Dora, where the Nazi’s secret V2 rocket was being developed. His assistance in sabotaging the V2 and records that he kept would help both the war effort and war crimes investigations.
Part 3: Nazi Hunter
Ian Bell was captured by Rommel’s army in North Africa and dispatched to a prison camp, The Citadel, in Italy. A daring escape, accomplished by grabbing onto the axle of a moving goods train, led Bell into the company of the partisans in the Apennines. Working with them, he undertook many raids on German troops until he was recaptured and returned to a very different Citadel. As the war had progressed, the prison had become a virtual slaughterhouse. A quick-witted Bell managed to save himself from the firing squad, only to be brutally tortured by the Gestapo. At the war’s end Bell was recruited as a Nazi hunter and took pride in his successes. But was the notorious Martin Bormann allowed to slip through his fingers?
Part 4: War Correspondent
They were the men and women who risked their lives at the front line to send the story home. Everywhere the soldiers went, it was their job to go too. Some never returned. Claire Hollingworth, a newspaper reporter assigned to Poland, took a shopping trip into Germany one summer afternoon and inadvertently discovered Hitler’s troops massing on the border. Her report broke the news of Poland’s invasion on September 1st. Billy Jordan, assigned to the Desert Campaign, found himself filming a turning point, the Battle of El Alamein. Later assignments in Tunis and Monte Cassino almost cost him his life. Harry Oaks, dispatched to film the liberation of a prisoner of war camp, found himself in the heart of never-before-seen horror at the concentration camp of Belsen.
Part 5: Special Operations
Created by Winston Churchill to prepare Europe for the coming invasion, the Special Operations Executive would work with the French Resistance behind enemy lines, attacking military and economic targets following Churchill’s orders to “set Europe ablaze.”
A war correspondent-turned soldier, George Millar’s knowledge of France proved invaluable as he and the French Resistance derailed supply trains and sabotaged railway lines, bringing German supplies and troop movements to virtual standstill. How he survived a number of close calls, which took the lives of those around him, is only part of the story of one British soldier undercover, codename: Emil.
Part 6: The Jewish Brigade
Winston Churchill recognized that in the Jewish population he had a hard core of potential soldiers both driven and dedicated to bringing down the Nazi regime. The Jewish Brigade would fight under its own flag making an enormous contribution to the war effort. Edmund de Rothschild joined as Captain of a Battery that comprised Jewish soldiers from 50 different countries. Mark Hyatt recounts how captured German soldiers faced the humiliation of surrendering to relatives of those they had in turn humiliated and murdered. Some of those captured would never make it home. At the end of the war, the Brigade found itself torn between humanity and army regulations as supplies and transport were put to use aiding the torrent of Jewish refugees throughout Europe. With growing support for the development of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, these British Jews would soon find their weapons turned against their fellow countrymen in the struggle to establish the State of Israel.