Holocaust (miniseries)


DVD cover
Genre Miniseries
Created by Gerald Green
Written by Gerald Green
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Starring Joseph Bottoms
Tovah Feldshuh
Michael Moriarty
Meryl Streep
James Woods
David Warner
Fritz Weaver
Sam Wanamaker
George Rose
John Houseman
Theme music composer Morton Gould
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 4
Producer(s) Robert Berger
Herbert Brodkin
Cinematography Brian West
Editor(s) Craig McKay
Stephen A. Rotter
Running time 475 minutes
Original network National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
Original release April 16 – April 19, 1978 (United States)

Holocaust is a 1978 American four part television miniseries which tells the story of the Holocaust from the perspective of the (fictional) Weiss family of German Jews and that of a rising member of the SS, who gradually becomes a merciless war criminal. Holocaust highlighted numerous important events which occurred up to and during World War II, such as Kristallnacht, the creation of Jewish ghettos and later, the use of gas chambers. Although the miniseries won several awards and received critical acclaim, it was criticized by some, including noted Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, who described it as "untrue and offensive."[1]

The series was presented in four parts on NBC:



A German Jewish family, the Weisses, consists of Dr. Josef Weiss (Fritz Weaver), the father; Berta Weiss (Rosemary Harris), the mother and talented pianist; Karl Weiss (James Woods), an artist who is married to a Christian woman named Inga Helms-Weiss (Meryl Streep); Rudi Weiss (Joseph Bottoms), an independent, rebellious soccer player; Anna Weiss (Blanche Baker), the young daughter; and Moses Weiss (Sam Wanamaker), Josef's brother and a chemist from Warsaw. Throughout the series, each member of the Weiss family experiences hardships and are ultimately led to a terrible fate, with the exception of Rudi and Inga.

Dr. Weiss is a respected doctor (GP) from Berlin. After losing his right to treat "Aryan" patients, he is deported to Poland for being a foreign citizen. He becomes a member of the Judenrat (Jewish council) for the Warsaw Ghetto. Josef is sent to Auschwitz along with his wife for attempting to save Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto's liquidation process. At Auschwitz, he is assigned to road labor for Uncle Kurt (of Erik Dorf; see below), who is trying to save several Jews by having them work for him. Uncle Kurt then is punished for using Jews when he should not have done so, and the Jews on his crew (including Josef) are all sent to the gas chambers.

Mrs. Berta Weiss, after her husband's deportation, survives with the help of Inga and her family. She is later deported to the Warsaw Ghetto to be reunited with Josef. Berta then obtains a job teaching at the school before eventually being sent to the gas chamber (at Auschwitz).

Anna Weiss becomes unresponsive after being raped by German soldiers earlier in the series (New Years Eve, 1939) and is sent to the Hadamar Clinic sanitarium in Hadamar in 1940, where she is killed by carbon monoxide poisoning as part of the Nazi Action T4.

Karl Weiss is arrested and sent to Buchenwald. Later, a family friend of Inga's, Heinz Muller, has Karl transferred to Theresienstadt where he works in the art studio. He and the other artists secretly make pictures depicting the reality of the Ghetto. When the pictures are discovered, the artists are tortured by the SS and all but Karl die. Karl is then (after hearing of his wife's pregnancy) transferred to Auschwitz and put on the Sonderkommandos, he finds out that both of his parents were taken to Auschwitz. Subsequently, Karl's health deteriorates badly and he dies in 1945, on the day Auschwitz is liberated.

Rudi Weiss, having fled from Germany, goes to Czechoslovakia, where he meets Helena Slomova (Tovah Feldshuh). They escape together to the Ukraine where they fight for years with Jewish partisans, led by Uncle Sasha, a doctor who lost his family earlier in the war. After fighting against both SS and Ukrainian soldiers, Rudi is ultimately captured, and Helena is shot and killed. Rudi wakes up in Sobibor where he meets Leon Feldhandler and Alexander Pechersky and escapes during the uprising. Rudi decides to travel alone back through Europe and find his family.

Meryl Streep as Inga Helms-Weiss

Moses Weiss owns a pharmacy in Warsaw. When Josef and the Lowys are deported, he finds a place for them to stay. Like his brother, he is put on the Judenrat. After hearing that the SS is planning to kill all Jews in Europe, he starts a resistance movement. This movement fights against the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, after receiving weapons from Christian Poles. They are initially successful, but the SS discovers their secret hiding places and uses gas to force them to walk out and face the wall, where they are all shot.

Karl's wife, Inga, eventually sacrifices her freedom to join him in Theresienstadt where he is commissioned as an artist. Desperately trying throughout most of the series to reach Karl in various camps, Inga can only get letters through to him if she performs sexual favors for Heinz Muller. Threatening to keep her husband involved in heavy physical work if she does not acquiesce to his requests, the SS sergeant rapes her. After arriving at Theresienstadt to reunite with Karl, Inga becomes pregnant with his child. A fellow artist sells Karl's paintings of horrific concentration camp scenes, the Gestapo finds them, tortures the artists and when Karl refuses to aid the Nazi investigation, he is sent to Auschwitz.

At the end of the series, Rudi meets Inga in the liberated Thresienstadt, later revealing that he found out what happened to his parents and Karl at Auschwitz. Inga reveals that despite Karl telling her not to, she had the baby and named him Josef (after her father-in-law). Inga decided to take her child back to Berlin, to reunite with her family. The fate of Rudi is unknown at the denouement of the series, but he is offered a job smuggling orphaned Jewish children into Palestine. The series ends with Rudi playing football with Jewish Greek children.

Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty), a lawyer from Berlin, is the focus of the other main storyline in the series. At the urging of his ambitious wife, Marta, the unemployed and apolitical Dorf joins the SS, becoming the personal assistant of Reinhard Heydrich. Dorf rises through the ranks of the SS, becoming famous for developing legalistic justifications and euphemisms for the anti-Jewish campaign.

Coordinating mass murder burdens his conscience at first, but it grows more ruthless as he discovers that ideological fervor gains him prestige. This backfires after a feud with field SS officers, who resent carrying out the gruesome tasks he mandates in Berlin, resulting in an anonymous letter to Heydrich accusing him of communist sympathies that stunts his career.

After the assassination of Heydrich, Dorf, without his protector and now in disfavour with superiors, is eventually put in charge of major extermination operations at Nazi extermination camps. Dorf continues to follow orders, with himself and his wife seeing it as justification for the orders he followed before and ultimately removing evidence of his misdeeds.

After the war ends, he is captured by the United States Army, and told that he will be tried for war crimes. Dorf decides to follow the example of many other Nazi officials and commits suicide by taking a cyanide pill.



Holocaust was produced by Robert Berger, and was filmed on location in Austria and West Berlin. It was broadcast in four parts from April 16 to April 19, 1978. The series was popular, earning a 49% market share; it was also received well in Europe.

The nine-and-a-half-hour program starred Fritz Weaver, Meryl Streep, James Woods and Michael Moriarty, as well as a large supporting cast. It was directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, a veteran of many television specials, including ABC's highly successful miniseries Roots, which first aired in 1977. The teleplay was written by novelist-producer Gerald Green, who later adapted the script into a novel.

The miniseries was rebroadcast on NBC from September 10 to September 13, 1979, a year and a half after its original broadcast.


Critical reception

Some critics accused the miniseries of trivializing the Holocaust. The television format meant that the realism of the situation was muted, while the fact that NBC made a financial gain from advertising led to accusations that the tragedy was being commercialized. Holocaust's creators defended it by arguing that it was an important factor in developing and maintaining awareness of the Holocaust. With the exception of such movies as The Diary of Anne Frank, Judgment at Nuremberg, and The Hiding Place, this was the first time many Americans had seen any lengthy dramatization of the Holocaust which introduced character portrayals of victims and their personal stories. The television critic Clive James commended the production. Writing in The Observer (reprinted in his collection The Crystal Bucket), he commented:

The German Jews were the most assimilated in Europe. They were vital to Germany's culture—which, indeed, has never recovered from their extinction. They couldn't see they were hated in direct proportion to their learning, vitality and success. The aridity of the Nazi mind was the biggest poser the authors had to face. In creating Erik Dorf they went some way towards overcoming it. Played with spellbinding creepiness by Michael Moriarty, Erik spoke his murderous euphemisms in a voice as juiceless as Hitler's prose or Speer's architecture. Hitler's dream of the racially pure future was of an abstract landscape tended by chain-gangs of shadows and crisscrossed with highways bearing truckloads of Aryans endlessly speeding to somewhere undefined. Dorf sounded just like that: his dead mackerel eyes were dully alight with a limitless vision of banality.[2]

Moreover, the Polish community in the United States found the miniseries to be controversial and untrue because it claimed that the soldiers who were supervising transports of Jews and executing them during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were dressed in Polish military uniforms.[3]

In January 1979, Holocaust aired in West Germany.[4] With an estimated viewership of up to 15 million households, the miniseries turned out to be extremely popular during its initial airing, leading to an increased public interest in the crimes committed during the Nazi era. The series which was watched by 20 million people, or 50 percent of West Germany's population, and it first brought the matter of the genocide during World War II to widespread public attention in a way that it never was before.[4] After each part of Holocaust was aired, there was a companion show where a panel of historians could answer questions from people phoning in.[4] The historian's panels were overwhelmed with thousands of phone calls from shocked and outraged Germans. The German historian Alf Lüdtke wrote that the historians "could not cope" as they were faced with thousands of angry phone-callers asking how these things could happen.[4] Subsequently the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache named the term "Holocaust" as German Word of the Year.[5]


Holocaust won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series. The series also won Emmys for Meryl Streep, Moriarty and Blanche Baker. Morton Gould's music was nominated, but did not win. Gould's music score was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score for a Movie or Television Program. Co-stars David Warner, Sam Wanamaker, Tovah Feldshuh, Fritz Weaver and Rosemary Harris were all nominated for, but did not win, Emmys. However, Harris won a Golden Globe Award (for Best TV Actress - Drama) for her performance, as did Moriarty (for Best TV Actor - Drama).[6]

DVD releases

Holocaust was released in the U.S. as a Region 1 DVD by Paramount Pictures and CBS Home Entertainment on May 27, 2008. The Region 2 DVD followed on 15 August 2010. A disclaimer on the DVD packaging states that it may be edited from the original network broadcast version and is shorter at 446 mins. The Region 4 DVD is unusually in native NTSC format having not been converted to PAL. No information is currently available to explain the reason for the half hour of missing footage. However, it seems to be clear that the time difference is not simply due to the NTSC/PAL conversion 4 percent speed-up effect.

See also


  1. Wiesel, Elie (April 16, 1978). "Trivializing the Holocaust: Semi-Fact and Semi-Fiction". New York Times.
  2. James, Clive. The Crystal Bucket. pp. 124–126. ISBN 0-330-26745-0.
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/1979/09/23/archives/connecticut-weekly-holocaust-on-tv-stirs-poles-anger-holocaust-on.html
  4. 1 2 3 4 Ludtke, Alf; Coming to Terms with the Past': Illusions of Remembering, Ways of Forgetting Nazism in West Germany, pages 542–572 from The Journal Of Modern History, Volume 65, 1993, pages 544–546.
  5. Spiegel Online: Ein Jahr, ein (Un-)Wort! (in German)
  6. IMDb Awards.
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