Last night, I finally started working my way through The World at War, which I’ve long heard is the be-all and end-all of World War II documentaries. With only a single episode under my belt, I’m not yet equipped to verify the veracity of that statement. But there’s no disputing the filmmakers’ skills at digging up devastating footage. The series debut is chock full of haunting clips, depicting precisely choreographed Nazi youth festivals, a frolicking Eva Braun, and young girls screaming their lungs out as Adolf Hitler drones on about the injustice of Versailles. Given all we know about where that pageantry led, it’s tough to imagine more sinister images.
If you crave some small taste of what The World at War has to offer, check out this astonishing collection of full-color World War II clips, via the Romano Archives. It’s a hodge-podge of training films, amateur footage, and newsreels, some of which has been set to cheesy music. In the spirit of last night’s viewing, the ones I’ve been drawn to today are those that depict “normal” German life during wartime. The clip above, for example, shows Nazi soldiers and citizens enjoying a day at the circus, seemingly oblivious to the incalculable human suffering all around them. Though if you look closely, those smiles sure do seem wan and forced, as if there were men with guns on the edges of the scene forcing them to look content.