“That’s the biggest mistake you can make,” Sammel said. Moments later he was citing Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, “where you actually found out that Eichmann was a completely normal guy.” High-ranking Nazi officers “were wonderful fathers and wonderful husbands and actually very tender,” he added, “which would not fit at all with this common idea that they’re all brutal sadists.” Nazis were “normal people who turned into murder machines.”

Soon Sammel brought up the famous experiment that Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram began in 1961 (the same year as Adolf Eichmann’s trial for overseeing large-scale Nazi crimes against humanity). The professor found it easy to “make people torture other people, for the benefit of science. And they go until three times administrating a potential lethal electrical charge on another person, who is an actor who mimes the pain, but still—those people do not know it.”

What about mass entertainment that, like so much nationalist rhetoric in the United States, thrives on depicting people as all good or all bad? “I guess in terms of catharsis, I get the Hollywood recipe,” Sammel said. “It’s complete crap. But it’s an ideology that pumps us up. It will not help society grow.”

“If we come to understand that people who are ‘bad’ have some good qualities,” I said, “then maybe also we would be confronted that people who we know are ‘us’ and good might have some really bad qualities.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly it,” he replied. “Isn’t it like that in America? You are the only society in the world who have only good guys. How amazing for you. But then explain to me how come that you are the very nation who have the biggest rate of people imprisoned. Tell me about that—if you are so good, how come? You tell me. You are believing in shit. Excuse me, to say that.”

He went on: “How come that you do not understand—I mean, it’s not [only] you, it’s even Europe—you bomb the Middle East 30 years and then you are kind of surprised that there is a refugee movement, people go out, or a terrorist movement even. Every fucking terrorist movement that was born in the Middle East was funded primarily in the beginning initially from us. They have our weapons because we gave them to them. So we play the fucking game and then it gets out of control. So the bad game is not started by them, it’s started by us. And now we blame it on them.”

Sammel grew up in West Germany, near Heidelberg. During childhood, he saw horrific footage from concentration camps. “I got to know all those documentaries the American soldiers filmed when they discovered the camps…. It traumatized me for the rest of my life. But I tell you what—you get your lesson…. Never ever again. That’s how you learn from history.”

An imperative is “understanding human behavior,” Sammel said. “How the hell could that happen? And you will not understand how this has happened if you say, ‘They’re all bad, we killed them all, let’s kill them all as quickly as possible, done, good job.’ … In a historical analysis, you have to go deep into society to find out where it started, how was the process of indoctrination, how a whole nation turned into believing an ideology completely disconnected from reality, and how this collective fury or enthusiasm could have happened—in order to prevent it.”

The German official whom Sammel portrayed for eight years “took the ideology of the Nazis because it’s the most powerful, the best way to make a career and a good living. And that’s what he did. So, he’s not a convinced Nazi, he’s a convinced Darwinist.” When his capture by the US military leads to a new career with US intelligence, “he’s very happy that the Americans take him over. Very happy—perfect—safe.”

The café was closing, so we found a quiet spot in a bar around the corner. “Know your biggest enemy most,” Sammel said as we sat down. “All kind of caricature doesn’t help you understand the other side.”

He added: “Don’t put the Nazis in a place where you think it has nothing to do with yourself. That’s the biggest danger, historical danger, I think we can make.”

A historical series, like a historical book, speaks of the period that it talks about and also of the period it was made,” Frédéric Krivine told me. In the current era, his deeply nuanced scripting of Un village français is at odds with countless tales of sheer goodness in the fight against evildoers—the kind of narratives that have retained huge power in spite of diminished credibility. Shaking off a propagandized worldview requires seeing not only what we abhor in others but also what others abhor in us—a sharp departure from outlooks that have dominated the US political culture. Facile accusations about the crimes of others beg the questions about our own. In such light, Un village français can be viewed (with English subtitles) as particularly relevant for Americans, whose country—while never experiencing a successful invasion by a foreign power—has often occupied other lands.