I love history. But there are some parts of it I only studied enough to pass a test, because I was bored by them (sorry, endless Chinese dynasties), they seemed idiotic and avoidable in the first place (hang your head in shame, Civil War) or because they were so dark that I didn’t want to delve into them.
Yes, Adolf Hitler, I’m talking to you. Give yourself a heil.
I’ve never understood the fascination with that part of World War II. Maybe I’ve walked through one too many Holocaust museums, maybe I’m still scarred from watching Schindler’s List, or maybe I’m still horrified by the college history professor who always referred to Hitler as “our dear Fuhrer.” (I am not making that up.)
Now “our dear Fuhrer” was my assignment at work: a 700 Club story about Nazi propaganda and its connection to ancient paganism. Many people think I have a “dream job,” traveling the world and shooting stories like this, and most of the time, that’s true.
But for the record, let me just say that watching Triumph of the Will six times in a row to log video is less a dream than a nightmare, as is watching unedited U.S. Army video of concentration camp victims. The images etch themselves into your mind without your consent: all the Hitler-heiling; the cheery goose-stepping through Bavaria, the fawning crowds with glazed eyes struggling for just a glimpse of their beloved Adolf. And on the next piece of video: piles of corpses being tossed into a pit, as lightly as if they were chicken bones; or even worse, the corpses that were still walking around, weeping and kissing the hands of the U.S. soldiers who had come to rescue them a decade too late.
Shooting the story in Nuremberg was… interesting. It was April, and we made all the obligatory Mel Brooks “Springtime for Hitler” jokes. We usually have the same group on our trips: Gordon Robertson, CBN security, a camera crew and me. This time, CBN reporter Scott Ross joined us as well. After several stories, we’re all used to traveling together, and we manage to do a lot of work in a very short time and still enjoy ourselves.
This trip was not exactly what I would call fun.
Let me first say that I am not an über-religious type who sees a demon around every corner and has to do the “binding and loosing” thing. While I’m sure that’s valid in some circumstances, that behavior is overdone to a point that it’s become a Christian cliché. That is not my thing. However… I will say that there is still some weirdness in that city that has not been exorcised, not even by the Nuremberg Trials.
Don’t get me wrong. The Old City, bombed into near-oblivion by the Allies in 1945 and completely rebuilt, is one of the cleanest, most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. It’s a maze of guard towers and castles, cobblestone streets, flower and fruit markets, Gothic churches and sausage stands, all enclosed by medieval walls. It’s so perfect that I started calling it “Euro Disney.” I loved wandering around Nuremberg and eating in an old riverfront monastery that had been turned into a restaurant.
But there’s still an air of something not quite right there.
That weirdness came out in full force the day we went to shoot at the famous Zeppelintribune, where the Nazi Party Rallies were held every September in the 1930s. You may remember the iconic newsreel footage of the Allies bombing the swastika off the top of the building. Today, only a small part of the building is standing and the field around it is used as part of some famous German auto race.
Our day started with Gordon showing up at breakfast to tell us he had some sort of stomach bug and couldn’t go with us. Since we were flying home the next day that was going to be a tiny problem, since he was the on-camera talent. I took the crew out to the field to shoot location footage, with Gordon saying he would rest and join us later.
While the crew was shooting, I wandered around the Tribune building (we were no longer allowed inside because caretakers had deemed the building “structurally unsound”). I’ve walked in a lot of places where unthinkable things have happened: the Killing Fields in Cambodia, the Roman Colosseum where Christians were martyred, valleys in Jerusalem where babies were sacrificed to ancient gods, and even the “Seat of Satan” in ancient Pergamum; but this place had a special brand of strangeness I can’t remember feeling anywhere else on the planet. I’ve never been to a concentration camp, but I’ve heard others express a similar feeling at the camps.
It’s almost surreal to look at a podium – to stand in that podium – and conceive of the carefully scripted evil that came from the genocidal maniac who stood there less than 70 years ago. Then, as I looked out over the field that held up to a million people at one time, I thought of the old saying: Who is the greater fool: the fool who leads, or the fools who follow him?
Around mid-morning, I got a phone call from Gordon, who was still very sick but on his way in a cab. I told him to wait until the afternoon, but he refused. “I just want to get these done,” he insisted.
I was starting to feel the same way.
Sometimes I can be a tiniest bit of a perfectionist, and I will have Gordon do several takes of the same standup until I’m happy with his delivery. (Side note: To his credit, he will do as many standups as it takes, even though I may, on occasion, thoroughly irritate him). This time, it was a different story. Scott Ross was kind enough to stand in for him while the camera crew set up the shot, while Gordon rested on the bleachers with a bottle of Sprite between takes. On this day, we shot the standups in less than 20 minutes, called two taxis, and sped happily away from the field.
Normally, I hate the last night of every trip because I’m sorry that it’s about to end; as I said before, our trips are usually pretty adventurous. That wasn’t the case as I packed that night in Nuremberg. Germany is beautiful, the people are incredibly friendly and helpful, and the food and the hotels were lovely, both in Berlin and in Nuremberg. Still, something was… off.
I still haven’t quite figured it out.