Ken Burns says Holocaust film echoes current events

On Balance with Leland Vittert

(NewsNation) —  Documentarian Ken Burns has released a new film about the Holocaust. The famed director says it touches on the blind eyes turned in America to what was happening in Nazi Germany.

He adds that the film echoes current events.

“The U.S. and the Holocaust,” by Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, examines the events leading up to and during the Holocaust. The Public Broadcasting System says the film dispels the myth that Americans were ignorant of what was happening to Jewish people in Europe at the time.

The filmmaker joined “On Balance with Leland Vittert” on Tuesday night to elaborate on the documentary.

“Americans knew from the very beginning. There were 3,000 stories about mistreatment of Jews and repressive tactics in 1933 alone in American newspapers; 1933 is when Hitler came to power,” Burns said.

“One way to put it is that even when we saw the full effects when the war was over and all the footage of the liberated concentration camps come out, some, as you know, Leland, some of the most ghastly footage ever, less than 5% of American people wanted to let in more refugees.”

Burns said the film was initially supposed to be rolled out next year, but production was accelerated.

“We felt so much around us was echoing with the same things. You know, Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. I’ve never worked on a film where the rhymes haven’t been incredibly amazing, whether it’s positive or negative. This one was rhyming a lot when we began in 2015, but rhyming even more as we were finishing of the film.

“Humanity, you know, hasn’t changed,” Burns added. “Human nature hasn’t changed. And so we find ourselves, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration, sort of conditioned to accept tyranny.”

When asked about CBS correspondent Major Garrett’s report that the U.S. is 85% of the way to a Civil War, Burns said he thinks the country is farther away than that percentage.

“The historian Deborah Lipset says the time to stop a genocide is before it starts. The time to save a democracy is before it’s lost. So it’s now the time for all good people, regardless of political persuasion, to come to the aid of their country,” Burns said.

With that in mind, Burns explained that his new film is filled with extraordinary people who risked everything to save others.

“This Holocaust film is filled with extraordinary human beings who risked everything to get people out, government bureaucrats who made exceptions and got people out, organizations, we call them NGOs, who got people out, and finally, even at the very end, the United States Government made the most effective thing, which is the War Refugee Board that helped tens of thousands of people,” Burns said.

“The U.S. and the Holocaust” airs on PBS this week.

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