The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Nine “Deaths-Head Revisited “

Original Air Date: November 10, 1961
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Don Medford

“Mr. Schmidt, recently arrived in a small Bavarian village which lies eight miles northwest of Munich… a picturesque, delightful little spot one-time known for its scenery, but more recently related to other events having to do with some of the less positive pursuits of man: human slaughter, torture, misery and anguish. Mr. Schmidt, as we will soon perceive, has a vested interest in the ruins of a concentration camp—for once, some seventeen years ago, his name was Gunther Lutze. He held the rank of a captain in the SS. He was a black-uniformed strutting animal whose function in life was to give pain, and like his colleagues of the time, he shared the one affliction most common amongst that breed known as Nazis… he walked the Earth without a heart. And now former SS Captain Lutze will revisit his old haunts, satisfied perhaps that all that is awaiting him in the ruins on the hill is an element of nostalgia. What he does not know, of course, is that a place like Dachau cannot exist only in Bavaria. By its nature, by its very nature, it must be one of the populated areas… of the Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling

A certain “Mr. Schmidt” (Oscar Beregi Jr.) checks into a quiet Bavarian hotel in the beautiful German countryside. The hotel clerk seems to recognize him but he brushes it off. He claims to have been far away on the Eastern Front during the war. Schmidt asks the woman about what seems to be a nearby prison, and when he visits we learn it is actually a derelict Nazi concentration camp –the first of the campus: Dachau. We also learn that “Mr. Schmidt” is not who he claims to be. In fact, he is really named Gunther Lutze, a former S.S. Captain.

As Lutze strolls around the empty buildings of Dachau, he sadistically recalls various scenes of torture with pleasure. However, he is shocked when a former inmate of the camp named Alfred Becker (Joseph Schildkraut) suddenly appears. Lutze asks if Becker is the caretaker of the camp, to which Becker responds “in a manner of speaking.” As they speak, Lutze’s horrendous acts come back to haunt him. When pressed, Lutze claims he was merely following orders. Lutze tries to flee from the prisoners but he cannot –he is further pressed on why he changed his name and moved to South America.

Lutze begins sweating nervously as dozens of other ghostly inmates appear. They surround him and conduct a trial for crimes against humanity.

“This is not hatred, This is retribution. This is not revenge, This is justice.”

Lutze then collapses onto the ground, screaming in agony while Becker watches him pay for his extraordinary sins. Some time passes and a doctor is found standing beside the limp body of Lutze while Lutze is carried away to an insane asylum. What could have driven a man to raving insanity in a mere two hours, thinks the doctor. The doctor, pauses and gazes out at Dachau and says, “Why does it still stand? Why do we keep it standing?”

“There is an answer to the doctor’s question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God’s Earth.”

Rod Serling

As someone who has visited the concentration camp at Dachau, I thought this was a powerful episode. How quickly we forget the horrors of the 20th century –this episode is a good reminder of the ever-present danger of unenlightened groupthink not to mention antisemitism. Rod Serling occasionally stepped into trouble with the network censors of the early ’60s when he offered social criticism in The Twilight Zone, most notably his attempts to highlight the murder of Emmet Till. In “Deaths-Head Revisited” Serling comments on the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi architect behind the Holocaust whose trial was concurrent with the release of this episode. Eichmann was hanged the following year in 1962.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • The title for this episode is a play on Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 English novel Brideshead Revisited.
  • This episode takes place in 1962, seventeen years after the end of World War II and Dachau is shown as abandoned, however in reality it remained open, even serving as a refugee camp into the 1960s.
  • Though Lutze is described as a former Nazi Commandant at Dachau, in truth by the 1940s all commandants at Dachau had either committed suicide, died in battle, or been executed for war crimes.
  • Actors Beregi and Schildkraut came from distinguished Yiddish families, many of whom were killed in the Holocaust.

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