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For One Night, History Looks Like ‘Hitler Channel’

History has worked so hard at shedding its stodgy image as “the Hitler channel” — so much so that the “South Park” gang just kicked the living crap out of them — it’s rather reassuring to see the network embrace those roots, however fleetingly.

“Engineering Evil,” a two-hour special airing Nov. 15, provides a meticulous account of how the Holocaust was conducted, essentially, in terms of logistics. In that regard, it almost serves as a nonfiction companion to the 2001 HBO movie “Conspiracy,” a spellbinding dramatic recreation of the Wannsee Conference, where the Nazi hierarchy hatched their “Final Solution” in chilling, matter-of-fact fashion.

Exec produced by Erik Nelson and Julian P. Hobbs and directed by Nelson, “Engineering Evil” eschews recreations, relying on graphics, talking heads and photographic evidence. And even with that, the material can be hard to watch in places, just in terms of comprehending the magnitude of the horror — and the fact the Nazis, in documenting what they were doing, were exhibiting pride in their accomplishment.

Given that there are still Holocaust deniers — some of whom insist killing millions wasn’t logistically possible — the documentary provides a service on a very basic level. But it also underscores that the genocide was a national effort, one where ordinary Germans had to be at least tacitly complicit in keeping the wheels moving. (History is supporting the telecast with study guides for schools, aimed at students grade 6-12.)

The real mystery is how such a project found its way to the new-look History, which in its pursuit of younger demos airs more and more programming that has nothing to do with its ostensible name. Although the “South Park” episode deftly skewers that drift, they’re hardly the first to notice it. I mean, does anybody else remember “Life After People: The Series?”

On that score alone, it would be nice if “Engineering Evil” found an audience — reminding History that whatever they might do to pay the bills, “history” isn’t a dirty word.

 

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