The National Geographic Channel says that it will “indefinitely” pull a planned television series on unearthing Nazi war graves after days of blistering criticism from archaeologists and others who said the program handled the dead with macabre disrespect.
The channel said Monday that after “consulting with colleagues” at the National Geographic Society, it would not broadcast the series, “Nazi War Diggers,” in May as scheduled “while questions raised in recent days regarding accusations about the program can be properly reviewed.” The series was to have been broadcast globally, except in the United States.
National Geographic Channel International had commissioned four episodes of the program, in which two British metal-detecting specialists, a Polish relic hunter and an American, Craig Gottlieb, who deals in Nazi artifacts, hunt for the graves of German and Red Army soldiers on the Eastern Front.
National Geographic Channel issued a statement Friday, defending the series and saying the criticism was premature, based on early publicity materials that “did not provide important context about our team’s methodology.” The channel has since pulled those materials from its website.
That did not appease archaeologists, battlefield historians and others, who have mounted a social media and letter-writing campaign, aimed in particular at the National Geographic Society, to derail the series.
The channel said in its Friday statement that the Latvian government had approved the team’s work, which took place on Latvian and Polish soil. But those critical of the project contacted the Latvian War Museum, which said in a statement that it had opposed the series.
National Geographic also said that none of the items dug up during filming would be sold, but that instead they would all be donated to war museums. The program’s opponents, however, found a posting on a military collectors’ online forum in which Gottlieb described finding a Latvian war helmet in June and preparing it for sale.
“This is treasure hunting, not archaeology,” said Tony Pollard, director of the Center for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, who has appeared on National Geographic programs and other documentaries about unearthing war dead. “I have seen human remains brandished like trophies before, but in dodgy YouTube videos. The trailer on the Internet was absolutely shocking and very damaging for National Geographic.”
In its statement Monday, the National Geographic Channel said that “while we support the goal of the series, which is to tell the stories of long-lost and forgotten soldiers,” it takes “seriously the questions that have been asked.”