PBS International to Distribute Ken Burns Holocaust Doc


PBS International is set to distribute Florentine Films’ upcoming documentary series The U.S. and the Holocaust, directed and produced by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein.

Inspired in part by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition and supported by its historical resources, the three-part docuseries examines the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany in the context of global antisemitism and racism, the eugenics movement in the U.S. and race laws in the American south. It will air on September 18, 19 and 20 on PBS in the U.S.

Written by Geoffrey Ward, the series sheds light on the response of the U.S. government and the American people to one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history. The U.S. and the Holocaust combines first-person accounts of Holocaust witnesses and survivors and interviews with historians and writers, dispelling the competing myths that Americans either were ignorant of the persecution that Jews and other targeted minorities faced in Europe or that they looked on with indifference.

Burns said: “History cannot be looked at in isolation. While we rightly celebrate American ideals of democracy and our history as a nation of immigrants, we must also grapple with the fact that American institutions and policies, like segregation and the brutal treatment of Indigenous populations, were influential in Hitler’s Germany. And it cannot be denied that, although we accepted more refugees than any other sovereign nation, America could have done so much more to help the millions of desperate people fleeing Nazi persecution.”

Novick added: “Exploring this history and putting the pieces together of what we knew and what we did has been a revelation. During the Second World War, millions of Americans fought and sacrificed to defeat fascism, but even after we began to understand the scope and scale of what was happening to the Jewish people of Europe, our response was inadequate and deeply flawed. This is a story with enormous relevance today as we are still dealing with questions about immigration, refugees and who should be welcomed into the United States.”

Botstein, a longtime producing partner of Burns and Novick who is making her directorial debut on this film, commented: “At the center of our narrative is the moving and inspiring firsthand testimony of witnesses who were children in the 1930s. They share wrenching memories of the persecution, violence and flight that they and their families experienced as they escaped Nazi Europe and somehow made it to America. Their survival attests to the truth of the remark made by journalist Dorothy Thompson that ‘for thousands and thousands of people, a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death.’”

Joe Barrett, VP of sales for PBS International, said: “This remarkable and thought-provoking film offers an unflinching look at the United States’ response to the Holocaust. While it is a story of an American reckoning, the film raises questions and perspectives that transcend borders. PBS International is proud to distribute this unmissable series from Florentine Films.”