Gunther Lutze, a former captain in Hitler's SS, decides to return to the area that contains the remnants of Dachau concentration camp. As he revels in the memories of the days when he had tortured prisoners, prisoner Alfred Becker appears before his eyes. What he does not realize is Becker is an ghostly apparition, and plans to put Lutze on "trial" for crimes against humanity for the torture and killing of the prisoners that were held in the camp. It is one trial Lutze may regret. Written by
Notably, the ending narration includes the words "the Twilight Zone" in the middle rather than at the end. See more »
This episode was set in 1962, 17 years after the end of the war and Dachau is shown as abandoned. However, after the war it remained open, first as a prison and then as a refugee camp until the mid-1960s. See more »
Death's-Head Revisited (DHR) deserves some credit for raising awareness of an important, dark chapter of history, and doing so on TV in 1961, when it was perhaps more difficult to put this kind of content on TV. While this is helpful, Serling's "Never Forget" coda is hardly bold or insightful, and he doesn't challenge the audience to deeply consider the Holocaust. We need not rake Serling over the coals for writing this, but there are better ways not to forget the Holocaust than to view DHR.
Writing on the subject of the Holocaust will not alone make your drama a successful work of art. It's what you have to say about it that counts. DHR passes on this opportunity, content with telling a revenge fantasy which has little relevance to the real world. It's the kind of tale I would've written in 7th grade -- a gloating war criminal escapes justice, but magical forces come to punish him. Well-intended and heartfelt, perhaps, but we shouldn't pretend a simplistic wish is a significant commentary on the Holocaust.
Main character Lutze is not just a stock villain, but an implausible one. Besides continuing to relish his memories of his past atrocities, he actually leaves his safe haven in South America just to go wax nostalgic in his old concentration camp. Left as a flat TV monster, his character fails to contribute to any deeper consideration of Naziism and its real monsters. He makes some gesture toward rationalization of his offenses, which is unconvincing coming from his character, but this the episode barely explores anyway.
The episode's subject matter may make some viewers take it seriously, and the revenge fantasy will fool them into feeling better because justice has been done. But has it really been done? What does airing such a fantasy really do for the victims? What does it really do about the war criminals who fled Europe to elude justice? Nothing. In truth, such a fantasy cannot achieve anything beyond pleasing the audience with wishful thinking. We will never be able to use magic to bring Nazis to justice. Holocaust victims will never come back as ghosts to punish their murderers. Nor is telling ourselves that people like Lutze will face "judgment from God," as Becker claims, sufficient.
Instead of contenting itself with revenge fantasy, a drama should challenge us to examine ourselves and our human race, to think about how humanity could reach the point where fascists are murdering ethnic groups by the millions. (An odd point: You might think the script by Serling, who was of Jewish heritage, would mention Jews, who bear mentioning in a drama such as this, but it doesn't. Early 60s media standards might have something to do with it.)
The Twilight Zone frequently tells good stories and achieves dramatic power, but DHR remains more like the sentimental, self-serious, rather silly speechifying that the series is also known for.
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