Hall Center For The Humanities


Laurence Rees
Laurence Rees
Award-winning documentarian and author

"Talking with Nazis"
Humanities Lecture Series

Tue., Sep. 20, 2011, 7:30pm - 9:00pm
Co-sponsored by Kansas Public Radio.
Location: Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union

Laurence Rees is a British historian best known for his award-winning documentaries on the perpetrators and survivors of World War II's atrocities. The former head of BBC television's history programs and Creative Director of BBC television's history programs, Rees' career in historical documentary films stretches back 20 years.  Most recently, he launched WW2History.com, the premiere multimedia history of World War II for the web.  He is also the author of numerous best-selling books on World War II, including Auschwitz and World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West.

In-depth conversations with Japanese soldiers, Nazi officers, and Russian fighters forced into silence during Stalin's reign make Rees' films unique among the many accounts available of WWII and its brutalities.  In his Humanities Lecture Series presentation, "Talking with Nazis," Rees will use extracts from his Peabody award-winning television series to illustrate the benefits and pitfalls of interviewing former Nazis, from those who worked for Hitler to those who personally committed war crimes on his behalf.  The narratives of his films, although lively and rife with gruesome detail, avoid sensationalizing; instead Rees strives to understand the psychological motivators for his subjects' actions.  The depth of his investigations and representations has earned Rees numerous awards in journalism, TV, and history, including the BAFTA, the most prestigious British film award, and a BANFF festival award, a world-wide honor delivered to film and television. His works are also the mainstay of many college courses, where teachers rely on the accessibility and thoroughness that Rees' work demonstrates.

Rees' career began when he served as editor for the BBC series Timewatch, which took a broad perspective on world history, focusing on great expanses of time. Yet Rees was continually drawn toward the events of World War II.  He had grown up under the shadow of a divided Germany, the Cold War, and NATO, and felt that understanding World War II was indispensible to his own understanding of contemporary world history. As he puts it, "the most important decisions you make in life are emotional. I can intellectualize why I'm interested in this, but ultimately I am emotionally drawn to this period in history."

Rees' intellectual and emotional fascination with World War II has led to what many recognize as the most important and groundbreaking programs on the topic ever produced.  The Sunday Times went so far as to state that "his judgments can seldom be faulted."  His first BBC documentary, Horror in the East, attempted to understand why the Japanese, allied with the British in the First World War, went from being notoriously kind to POWs to being notoriously brutal to prisoners captured in World War II.

Rees' oeuvre also includes more traditional topics for World War II enthusiasts, including Nazi officers and the creation of Auschwitz. The dramatic juxtaposition of well-known facts and surprising interviews has been praised in The New York Daily News as "getting to the heart of the most troubling and elusive questions" of World War II. This dedication to uncovering the heart of the conflict, no matter how uncomfortable, is also present in his most recent documentary.  Behind Closed Doors explicates the complicated relationship between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. The mix of politics and the personal experiences of world leaders offers a vivid depiction of historical figures, casting familiar characters in a quite unfamiliar light.

Rees' most recent project, WW2History.com, was launched in 2010.  Through the subscription-based website, he seeks to extend this personal engagement with the topic of World War II to others by providing an interactive framework for students and enthusiasts alike. Rees insists that you can't understand global issues today without developing a clear understanding of what happened in the Second World War.  To this end, his website offers forums and discussions where visitors have the opportunity to engage in philosophical reflections on the topics of WWII.

In addition to his Humanities Lecture Series presentation, Laurence Rees will join members of the Friends of the Hall Center for breakfast and a more informal question and answer session on the morning following his lecture.  You can find information about joining the Friends of the Hall Center on our website at www.hallcenter.ku.edu.  Friends at all giving levels are welcome to attend.

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