The U.S. and the Holocaust. Revisiting America’s Role

September 14, 2022

Preview: The U.S. and the Holocaust, a three-part documentary premiering Sunday, September 18 on THIRTEEN, the New York City metropolitan region’s PBS station.

How can we learn from the past? That is the profound question we face in the new documentary, The U.S. and the Holocaust, a three-part, six-hour series, directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, with narration by Peter Coyote. The film explores America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the 20th century. Inspired in part by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition, the film examines the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany in the context of global antisemitism and racism, the eugenics movement in the United States, and race laws in the American South – revealing how as the catastrophe of genocide unfolded in Europe, the U.S. took in only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to escape the Holocaust. Read more about the film and learn about free panels to attend, below.

Updated Broadcast and Streaming Schedule

As of September 14, there is a new schedule for broadcasting The U.S. and the Holocaust. It accommodates the Monday, September 19 national primetime special, The State Funeral of HM Queen Elizabeth II: Events of the Day (8-9:30 p.m). See all times for The U.S. and the Holocaust on our broadcast Schedule page.

Sunday, September 18, 8 – 10:15 p.m. and repeat 10:15 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.
The U.S. and the Holocaust, Episode 1: The Golden Door (Beginnings – 1938)
Reversing a history of open borders, a xenophobic backlash prompts Congress to restrict immigration. Hitler and the Nazis persecute German Jews, forcing many to seek refuge. FDR is concerned by the growing crisis but unable to coordinate a response. A Ken Burns film. (Part 1 of 3)

Monday, September 19, 9:30 p.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Repeat of The U.S. and the Holocaust, Episode 1: The Golden Door (Beginnings – 1938). See description, above.

Tuesday, September 20, 8 – 10:22 p.m. and repeat 10:22 p.m. – 12:45 a.m.
The U.S. and the Holocaust, Episode 2: Yearning to Breathe Free (1938 – 1942)
As World War II begins, Americans are divided over whether to intervene against Nazi Germany. Some individuals and organizations work tirelessly to help refugees escape. Germany invades the USSR and secretly begins the mass murder of European Jews.

Wednesday, September 21, 8 – 10:15 p.m. and repeat 10:15 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.
The U.S. and the Holocaust, Episode 3: The Homeless, The Tempest-Tossed (1942 – )
A group of dedicated government officials fights red tape to support rescue operations. As the Allies liberate German camps, the public sees for the first time the sheer scale of the Holocaust and begins to reckon with its reverberations.

Get a roundup of broadcast and digital premieres, special offers, and events with our weekly newsletter.
Emaciated man stands next to wooden bunks filled with similar emaciated men.

Former prisoners of Buchenwald concentration camp. Elie Wiesel is in the second row of bunks, 7th from left, next to the vertical beam. Photo: National Archives & Records Administration.

Through riveting firsthand testimony of witnesses and survivors who endured persecution and violence as their families tried to escape Hitler, the series delves deeply into the tragic human consequences of public indifference, bureaucratic red tape, and restrictive quota laws in America. It tackles questions relevant to our society today, including how racism influences policies related to immigration and refugees, and how governments and people respond to the authoritarian states that manipulate history and facts.

A man in suit stands above street addressing crowds. A loudspeaker is on stand next to him. A flag waves in wind.

Rabbi Stephen Wise addresses a crowd at a rally outside Madison Square Garden in NYC. Photo Library of Congress

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Dorothy Thompson, Rabbi Stephen Wise, and Henry Ford are among the historical figures in the film, as well as Anne Frank and her family, who applied for but failed to obtain visas to the U.S. before they went into hiding in The Netherlands.

An ambulance and three men are on stage above a crowd on 42nd Street. A sign says United Jewish War Effort.

Dr. Joseph Tenenbaum, NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise during a United Jewish War Effort event on W. 42nd Street. Circa, 1943. Photo courtesy US Holocaust Memorial Museum

“History cannot be looked at in isolation,” Ken Burns says. “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 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.”

Panel Discussions

Virtual online panels related to this series will be presented by THIRTEEN and The WNET Group the week of The U.S. and the Holocaust broadcast.

September 20–22: Sometimes We Must Interfere: Conversations on Confronting Inhumanity

These free, panel discussions will livestream on YouTube, where attendees can participate in a live chat. They are curated by Brian Tate and Mary Burke, directors, Community Engagement, The WNET Group. Visit for more information on the series SOMETIMES WE MUST INTERFERE: Conversations on Confronting Inhumanity, which include these three events:

Tuesday, September 20: WE MUST TAKE SIDES: A Conversation about the U.S. and the Holocaust
Wednesday, September 21: NO LONGER UNIMAGINABLE: A Conversation with Holocaust Survivors
Thursday, September 22: THE BORDER BETWEEN THEN & NOW: A Conversation with People Threatened with Deportation

September 8: Filmmaker Discussion

Watch the recorded event.
In advance of the September 18 premiere, join a free virtual talk on Thursday, September 8 with two of the filmmakers, Ken Burns and Sarah Botstein, in conversation with Madlin Sadler, COO, International Rescue Committee. Jake Tapper moderates the discussion on “The Holocaust and Refugees: Lessons for Today.

A smiling crowd stands in front of movie marquee with text that includes Nazi Atrocities and SS Guards Executed

Marquee advertising a screening of U.S. Army Signal Corps film, “Nazi Atrocities.” New York City. May 8, 1945.