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Recap / The Twilight Zone (1959) S 3 E 74 "Deaths-head Revisited"

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Becker passes judgment on Lütze.

Rod Serling: 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 Gunter Lütze. 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 Lütze 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.

Air date: November 10, 1961

Gunter Lütze (Oscar Beregi), a former captain in the SS, returns to the ruins of Dachau concentration camp under the false identity of "Mr. Schmidt" to relive the memories of his time as its commandant during World War II. He revels in the recollections of the torment he inflicted on the inmates, remembering with a cold smile the suffering he was responsible for. As he walks around the gallows and prepares to leave, he is surprised to see Alfred Becker (Joseph Schildkraut), one of the camp's inmates. As they talk, Becker relentlessly dogs Lütze with the reality of his grossly inhumane treatment of the inmates, while Lütze stubbornly and unemotionally insists that he was only carrying out his orders and had no idea that the Third Reich planned to exterminate Jews. Several other former inmates appear; they put Lütze on trial for crimes against humanity, and find him guilty. Before Becker can pronounce the sentence, Lütze remembers that he killed Becker 17 years ago, on the night US troops came close to Dachau, and realizes that Becker — as well as all the men who witnessed his trial — are ghosts. As punishment and atonement, Lütze is made to undergo the same horrors he had imposed on the inmates. He is not physically touched; rather, he experiences the pain in his mind, culminating near the gate, the gallows, and the detention room, where he screams in agony, having been driven insane.

Before departing, Becker's ghost informs him, "This is not hatred. This is retribution. This is not revenge. This is justice. But this is only the beginning, Captain. Only the beginning. Your final judgment will come from God." Lütze is eventually found and taken to a mental institution for the criminally insane, leaving his finders to survey the remains of the camp in wonder and bafflement, wondering what could possibly have driven him insane in just two hours. The doctor who examined him (Ben Wright) looks around, visibly upset, and asks: "Dachau. Why does it still stand? Why do we keep it standing?"

Rod Serling: 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.

Tropes-head Revisited:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Lütze devolves into a pleading mess during his trial.
  • An Aesop: Evil can never be forgotten.
  • And I Must Scream: In the end, when Lütze has a psychological breakdown, experiencing the same horrors and tortures he inflicted on all the prisoners at Dachau, but without relief (although it is suggested, in the final scene, he was sedated before being taken to an asylum by local law enforcement officers)...and, as Becker informs Lütze, this might just be the very beginning of some long-overdue retribution and justice, and what God has in store for him for all eternity, well...
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: Becker mentions that Lütze was "quite safe down there in South America."
  • Artistic License – History: Dachau KZ's actual commandant was SS Obersturmbannführer (equivalent to a lieutenant colonel, not captain-the SS didn't use normal ranks anyway) Martin Gottfried Weiss. Weiss didn't escape, but rather was hanged along with forty two SS officials at Dachau for their crimes in 1946.
  • Asshole Victim: Of the vilest kind and a non-fatal example. Lütze is granted a horrifying fate to be sure, but every single thing that's done to him is something he sadistically and gleefully inflicted on an innocent person without a moment's regret. He got nothing more than what he deserves.
  • Berserk Button: Becker is usually calm and controlled as he confronts Lütze, but when Lütze describes the horrors of The Holocaust as "little mistakes", his demeanor changes noticeably. He doesn't raise his voice, but his horror and anger are clear.
  • Be All My Sins Remembered: The closing narration states this is the reason that the Nazi death camps like Dachau should remain standing: to continually remind humanity of what the worst of its number did as a warning of what happens when men throw away the things that make them human.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Lütze wanted to remember all the pain he has inflicted to others, and in a way he does, just not in the way he'd likely hoped to.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Becker is almost always calm and reserved and his final punishment of Lutze is unimaginably horrifying (but thoroughly deserved).
  • Blatant Lies: Lütze tells the hotel desk clerk he served in the panzer division on Germany’s Eastern front during World War II, even though the clerk, by the horrific, trembling look on her face, she knows differently. Thing is, he makes no secret that he’s bluffing, then and especially when he questions her about the complex of buildings nearby and claiming not to know it’s purpose.
  • Body Wipe: This happens when Lütze runs toward the camera and blocks out the frame.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday:
    • Why doesn't Lütze immediately recognize Becker as one of his victims? Because there were so many of them. He doesn't even remember until near the end that he'd killed Becker.
    • He also tries to apply this logic to the Holocaust as a whole, dismissing what happened as "the little mistakes of the past". Becker can barely contain his shock and anger at such a cavalier attitude towards the inhuman slaughter of millions.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Gunter Lütze makes no secret about the fact he enjoyed his time as an SS officer. Played for Drama, as it shows how utterly depraved and monstrous a person would have to be to actually enjoy doing such horrible things.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: This was practically all Lütze lived for when he was an SS Captain with Becker being just one among his innumerable victims and vividly remembering how his agony was so great he used to beg Lütze to simply kill him. Having his actions repeated back to him causes Lütze to break within seconds.
  • Creepy Good: Becker's ghost forces Lutze to relive the horrors he inflicted on others, driving Lutze to insanity. Horrifying but definitely what Lutze deserves.
  • Dead All Along: Lütze forgets until the last minute that he did kill Becker the night the Americans stormed Dachau.
  • Dirty Coward: Lütze. For all his bombast, he tries to flee from Becker twice and he ran away the night the U.S. Army stormed the camp. When confronted by the ghosts of other victims, he completely breaks and begs for mercy.
  • Driven to Madness: Lütze's sentence is insanity. He's promptly inflicted with every bit of pain and agony he'd ever inflicted on someone, which is more than enough to drive him stark raving mad.
  • Dutch Angle: Numerous Dutch angle shots are used during Lütze's trial.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Lutze gets one when he spooks a hotel clerk about his true identity while bringing up the subject of Dachau to scare her even further. This sets up Lutze as a soulless man who gets off on pain and misery.
  • Evil Laugh: Former SS captain Gunter Lütze is told by the ghost of one of his victims that sentence is about to be passed on him. Lütze lets out a vicious, cruel laugh as he mocks the ghost for thinking that he can judge Lütze.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: This episode takes place over the course of about two hours.
  • Fat Bastard: Lütze is heavyset and an absolute monster.
  • Fatal Flaw: Lutze's remorseless cruelty is what drives Becker to bring upon him the judgement he so deserves. It's also the only reason he even came back to begin with as he was safe abroad but couldn't resist visiting his old home and remembering all the vile things he did.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The judgment of Lütze's trial is not death, but insanity by being subjected to the pain he inflicted, driving him completely insane. This included the deaths of his victims, the only difference being that he feels every bit of pain, but death never comes. But that's NOTHING compared to what Becker says God has in store for him.
    • It’s strongly suggested the inmates at Dachau went through this, as Becker describes his own horrifying torture (at Lütze's hands), which he repeatedly endured before he finally was murdered.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Gunter Lütze. As a commander at Dachau, he acted with the joy of a summer camp counselor as he mistreated and tortured millions. In the present day, he looks back on these horrific atrocities with pleasant nostalgia. Initially, when he encounters Becker again, he tried to act polite and amiably soft-spoken toward him, but when Becker confronts him about his crimes, he gradually loses his composure.
  • Foreshadowing: Becker being a ghost is foreshadowed by Lütze saying that he has not aged a day since they last saw each other 17 years earlier and by his wearing his concentration camp uniform.
    • During his sober response to Lütze's "little mistakes" comment, Becker tells him it would be a waste of time to ask forgiveness from those he has hurt beyond forgiving. Later, it turns out Becker was also talking about himself when he said that, as Lütze had killed him 17 years prior.
  • For the Evulz: Lütze's entire motivation for his actions is sadism, and his motive for returning to Dachau is to remember all the cruelty he inflicted.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Becker is a calm, pleasant person. His punishment for Lütze is anything but pleasant.
  • Hate Sink: Lütze is easily the most repulsive character ever to appear on the show, and every bit of horrific suffering inflicted upon him is completely deserved.
  • Have We Met?: When "Mr. Schmidt" (Mr. Smith) checks into the local inn, the innkeeper recognizes him from his time as the commandant of the local concentration camp, although he insists he spent the war in the Panzer (tank) division.
  • Hero Antagonist: All of Lütze's victims count, but Becker is the most developed.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Lütze's choice to return to Dachau to enjoy the memory of his crimes walks him right into his judgment by the ghosts of his victims. Even more so is that his ultimate fate is to be subjected to the complete sum of all of the pain and suffering he had ever inflicted at Dachau, which is not only unbearable agony, but drives him completely insane in a few minutes.
  • Hypocrite:
    • During Lütze's trial, he tries to denounce it by pointing out there's no judge, jury, or executioner. The Nazi regime like many of the totalitarian powers of its time butchered millions without any of them (in cases where they were used, these had provided nothing near a "fair trial").
    • Also during Lütze's trial, he claims that what the court is doing to him is inhuman. HahahahHAHAHAH!
  • Ignored Epiphany: Lütze's trial comes across as a last chance to repent and be shown mercy. He does not accept, and he pays for it.
  • Insistent Terminology: Becker makes a point of always calling Lütze by his rank of Captain, refusing to allow him any distance from his past.
  • Ironic Hell: Lütze's punishment for his crimes: to experience every horrific thing he ever did to someone else back to back. He goes completely insane in a few minutes.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Becker, as a ghost, is still wearing the clothes he wore as an inmate.
  • Jerkass: Even before Lütze's crimes are revealed, he's an unpleasant man. His interactions with the traumatized hotel clerk are especially condescending and it's clear he enjoys bullying her and forcing her to dredge up old memories of the concentration camp.
  • Just Following Orders: Lütze claims this was the case with him while he served as an SS officer, but from what we can tell from him and his flashbacks he clearly enjoyed following them. Becker describes this defense as "the Nazi theme music at Nuremberg."
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Lütze escaped punishment for his crimes for 17 years. Considering what happens when justice finally catches up with him, he would have been much better off in prison or hanged.
  • Lack of Empathy: Lütze doesn't feel even the slightest remorse for his crimes. Serling even describes him as being a man "without a heart".
  • Large Ham: Gunter Lütze. It doesn't make him any less despicable, though.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Gunter Lütze finally gets his comeuppance after 17 years, thanks to the ghost of Alfred Becker, and his punishment is to experience exactly what he inflicted on others.
  • Laughing Mad: Gunter Lütze goes into a bout of this after Alfred Becker informs him he'd been found guilty.
  • Mercy Kill: Becker recalls how he used to beg Lützeto simply kill him rather than subject him to more torture but Lütze refused.
  • Mind Rape: Gunter gets on the receiving end of this from the inmates. After having been found guilty for crimes against humanity, he's made to experience every bit of pain, suffering and misery he has inflicted on the Dachau inmates, which ultimately drives him completely insane.
  • Nazi Protagonist: Gunter Lütze. He visits to relive atrocities he committed during the war. He eventually receives karmic justice from the souls of his victims.
  • Never My Fault: Played for Drama. Lutze's inability to accept responsibility for his own actions demonstrate how sick in the head he was.
  • Nothing Personal: Played for Drama. Gunter Lütze tries to play off his crimes as just business. The fact that he has a "shit happens" attitude is an expression of how much of a cold-blooded asshole he is. It's also played straight in a horrifying way in that he clearly didn't care who his victims were (even in the category sense that the Nazis used to decide who would go into the camps); he just enjoyed hurting people and the concentration camp setup gave him an entire camp full of potential victims.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The tortures Captain Lütze committed against human beings are described as "unmentionable" — and the tortures being inflicted upon him are what cause his final descent into insanity (nothing is spelled out, but at one point Lütze clutches his groin and collapses in agony... figure it out yourself). All we're shown is Lütze's reactions to what he's experiencing.
    • Also, the ghostly wailing that can be heard during Lütze and Becker's initial conversations whenever Lütze tries to downplay his atrocities or get too chummy with Becker. Both Lütze and the audience never see who or where exactly the sound comes from but it's absolutely spine-chilling whenever it happens and disturbs Lütze greatly to say the least.
    Captain Lütze: What was that? It sounded like...
    Becker: The wind, Captain?
  • Oh, Crap!: Lütze gets a pretty severe one when he utters the Wham Line.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Oddly enough, this is downplayed with Lütze, almost to the point of being an aversion. He was a Nazi, which would generally qualify him as this by default, but he doesn't express any racist or antisemitic views other than calling his prisoners "filth" and "pigs" and even that's not intended to express any racial views. In the end, you pretty much get the sense that all he cared about was being able to inflict pain on people and the concentration camp prisoners just happened to be convenient victims, rather than him actually having any particular bias against the groups that were targeted in the Holocaust.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The only reason Lütze didn't prey on people in South America was because he had to keep a low profile if he wanted to escape execution.
  • Psycho for Hire: Lütze was an SS Captain, but it's made clear all that did was allow him to do things that he enjoyed doing without any punishment.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Lutze abused his victims in a manner similar to a sadistic little child who stomps ants for fun. When Becker confronts him, he shows no remorse for anything he's done.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Subverted. Captain Lütze claims he was only following orders, but from his flashbacks and some of his comments, he clearly enjoyed murdering/torturing thousands of people.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: It's Don Giovanni, a Cenar Teco m'Invitasti with a Nazi war criminal and his victims.
  • Redemption Rejection: Lutze is given a final chance to admit to his crimes and show genuine remorse at his trial. He doesn't and is then sentenced to his final punishment.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Lütze likes to visit the ruins of the concentration camp where he used to work and reminisce about the suffering he caused.
  • Retired Monster: Lütze is just as vile and monstrous as he ever was when he was an SS Captain 17 years ago. All that's changed is that he no longer has free license to cause pain and misery.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: This episode was inspired by the capture and ongoing trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the main architects of the Holocaust.
  • Sadist: Lütze's defining trait. During his time as Captain, he absolutely reveled in the misery and suffering he caused, and he looks back on the time with immense fondness, showing that his personality is still very much the same.
  • Setting Update: In 2009, "Deaths-Head Revisited" was one of several Twilight Zone episodes to receive a Comic-Book Adaptation. The story was updated to The Present Day, with Lütze changed to an 85 year old. Also, the hotel clerk turns out to be Becker's daughter.
  • Shoot the Dog: Clearly, Becker would really rather show mercy in spite of everything, but Lütze's final refusal to repent means that's no longer an option.
  • The Sociopath: Lütze is utterly devoid of empathy and basic human morality, and actually enjoyed all the pain and misery he inflicted on others and has absolutely no remorse about any of it, at most insincerely playing it all off as no big deal. The opening narration outright spells it out: he has no heart.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Lütze claimed to have been a soldier during the war, but Becker remarks he was anything but that.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: In a sense. Backer isn't really a sadist, but he barely raises his voice above speaking level when subjecting Lütze to his various punishments or telling him how this if nothing compared to what awaits him from God, where his quiet delivery just makes the line even more chilling.
  • The Stoic: Becker is reserved and soft-spoken throughout, although he has a few moments of Tranquil Fury.
  • That Was Not a Dream: Lütze believes his otherworldly trial was just a dream until Becker tells him otherwise.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: When Lütze tries to give the flimsy excuse that he "hoped" that people would forget the "little mistakes" of the past, a disbelieving Becker's response is to point out he's asking for too much from his former victims. If anything, he would have better luck asking the sun to stop revolving around the Earth. In short, Becker makes it clear that forgiving Lütze's countless atrocities is impossible. Aptly, he tells his former tormentor "Don't ask forgiveness from those whom you have destroyed to a point past forgiveness."
  • Translation Convention: It's obvious that German characters in a German village aren't canonically speaking English.
  • Truth in Television: Yes, there were many Nazis who were sadistic maniacs who didn't care for ideology: they simply were rabid sadists who loved causing pain.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Captain Lütze increasingly loses his composure upon being confronted by Becker until he goes insane after undergoing Mind Rape.
  • Wham Line:
    Lütze (to Becker): Why didn't I kill you when I had the chance?! Why didn't I — [Charges at Becker, then stops] Becker?... I did kill you.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Becker mentions that Lütze's victims included children and infants. This is Truth in Television: In real life, a quarter of the victims of the Holocaust were young children.
  • You Are Number 6: In one of his flashbacks, Lütze taunts one of the starving and thirsty inmates by referring to him as "Number 23575"note .
  • You Look Familiar: In-universe, where the desk clerk at the hotel seems to recognize Lütze, even though he uses an assumed identity and lies about his service in the German army.
  • You Monster!:
    Lütze: I was a soldier, Becker!
    Becker: No, Captain, you were a sadist. You were a monster who derived pleasure from giving pain.
    • The opening narration also makes it perfectly clear from the get-go that Lütze is a monstrous excuse for a human being, calling him an animal whose function in life is causing pain, as well as a person who had no heart.