In the third of our blogs to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2015, Holby City Producer Simon Harper talks about why he worked with the Trust to produce a storyline featuring a Nazi war criminal.
As an expatriate British child growing up in Belgium and France, both of which countries in the 1970s and 80s still had pretty raw memories of the occupation, the Holocaust was always on my radar and indeed part of my education in a way untypical of my generation. Part of my school’s history curriculum, for example, involved going to visit Breendonk, the main transit camp for Belgian Jews subsequently shipped on to death camps in the East. Also thanks to my European upbringing, I always spoke and studied German, so inevitably read around and was aware of the country’s troubled past and attempts to come to terms with it. My interest was truly consolidated aged fourteen when my mother bought me Kitty Hart-Moxon’s classic account of survival Return to Auschwitz - and aside from the horrors of which she writes so memorably, I remember being particularly struck by the complete lack of interest and sympathy she describes in the reception she and her mother got on arrival in the UK in 1946.
With my life-long interest, it was inevitable that I would one day, in my career as a Television Drama Producer, want to tell a story from the Holocaust. And the issue of escaped Nazi War Criminals was one of particular interest to me, having lived in France, where the blatant escape to Syria of the notorious Alois Brunner, Executioner of the Jews of Paris, had caused much national agony. Holby City, the show I produce, is at its best when the professional ethics of our characters are challenged by their personal demons – so what more powerful story to tell than our beloved Jewish regular character, Sacha Levy, having to treat an apparently sweet old man who turns out to be the – fictional – ‘Beast of Majdanek’? I say fictional, and yet the character and back story of Josef Dalke had to be carefully and meticulously constructed and rooted in the reality of his real-life counterparts, and there the Holocaust Educational Trust were absolutely invaluable in helping me pin down each detail of his imagined background as a Polish Ethnic German, his path to the SS, even the choice of Majdanek as the scene of his crimes, the low survival rate, we were advised, making it realistic that the character had been able to conceal his identity since.
When the Trust offered me the opportunity of Kitty Hart-Moxon herself coming in to the Holby offices to talk to myself, the cast and crew, it was not so much to provide us with the historical detail that we already had, but more to remind the whole team why it was so important we were telling this story. And the sight of my spellbound colleagues listening in dazed disbelief to Kitty as she spoke will forever remain one of the highlights of my career.