|Netflix Screen Capture*|
The distance from Berlin, the capital of the Reich, to Moscow, the heart of the Soviet Union is slightly over a 1000 miles. The distance from Tallinn (in Estonia) on the Baltic Sea down to Sevastopol (in the Crimea) is 1372 miles. The front covers a massive area. Of the estimated 70 million people who died in World War II, over 30 million died on the Eastern Front. Of those, 13 to 17 million were civilians. The war on that front was so chaotic, so destructive that records were either not kept, were destroyed during the war, or were lost in the chaos which reigned at the end of the war.
One of the TV programs which popped up in my Netflix feed lately was Battlefield Recovery. Looked interesting, so I thought I'd give it a go. The premise is that a team of four guys (one American, three Brits) go to some of the battlefields of the Eastern Front equipped with metal detectors and shovels to see what they could find. (Important note, they do this with the permission and the consent of the local authorities.)
The first episode took place in the Courland peninsula in northwestern Latvia. My first impression was that it was very interesting to see this area in full living color. As most of you know, the bulk of World War II footage is in black and white. Seeing what these places look like now is very interesting. (I also noted that the terrain and the architecture of small town Latvia doesn't look all that different now than it did back then.)
At any rate, as an amateur historian with a huge interest in World War II, especially the Eastern Front, I was very satisfied with the show. Prior to watching the second episode, there are four, I just had to Google it. (Of course.) One reason is that the American, who describes himself as an historian and a military officer, seemed familiar. Well, his name is Craig Gottlieb and I had seen him before, on Pawn Stars. He had served in the Marine Corps and (according to at least one source) had attained the rank of major. He does seem to know his stuff.
What else I discovered rather blew me away. It seems that this program was surrounded by controversy. It had first been announced as a series by the National Geographic channel with the title Nazi War Diggers. No, seriously, you read that correctly. A rather poor choice in my view, but as many book sellers have discovered, include the word "Nazi" in the title and slap a swastika on the cover and your book will fly off the shelves. I'm not sure what that says about our society, I'm sure it's nothing good.
First pulling the show then resurrecting it as Battlefield Recovery didn't seem to slow the hue and cry of the academics and professional whiners though. Here's one quote I found interesting -
National Geographic’s decision followed a vigorous campaign by many archaeologists and military historians, who said that the films were distasteful, and portrayed a lack of respect for those who died in combat situations. SourceAfter watching the first episode of the series (and the subsequent three episodes all in one day, hey, I'm recovering from surgery, what else have I got to do?) I felt that these "archaeologists and military historians" really need to go get stuffed. What a load of poppycock and nonsense from so-called "professionals" who probably didn't bother to watch the show at all. No doubt all they saw was a clip on National Geographic's website which was, from what I understand, probably in pretty poor taste.
But then again, it seems that National Geographic's standards have fallen a long, long way since their programs that I watched as a kid. Now it's all "global warming" and politically correct bullsh!t. Pardon my French.
I thought the show respectful of the men, women, and children (see episode two, filmed in Poland) who lost their lives in that cataclysm which tore Eastern Europe apart between 1939 and 1945.
They did find bodies in addition to artifacts and, in my estimation, those fallen were treated with far more respect than, let's say, the dead Egyptians filling the British Museum. You know, those dead people collected by "professional" archaeologists. Yeah, you academics, piss off.
Anyhoo, I highly recommend the show. It's on Netflix, might be available elsewhere, but it's good. Poignant, respectful, these men's love of their work comes across very well.
As to why this show is not on the History Channel is anyone's guess. Oh, that's right, the History Channel doesn't really do that "history" thing much anymore, do they?
* Anyone keen to guess what that sign leading into a German bunker translates to in English? Bueller...