It seems odd to call anything about this episode “golden,” as the entirety of the plot is related to the Holocaust. However, we use golden in the sense that a clip or scene or episode is exemplary and this, one of my favorite episodes of TTZ, is. Although on the surface it’s about the Holocaust, Serling almost certainly meant it as an indictment of all human cruelty, as his closing monologue seems to imply. I quoted a snippet of the closing when I wrote about my visit to the ruins of the World Trade Center because it is the same kind of thing–another link in the chain of human cruelty. This is an idea repeated in many works of art, from “Sympathy For the Devil,” in which the protagonist lists the litany of horrible scenes he oversaw to John Donne, who reminds us that we’re all connected. And this time, the bell’s tolling in The Twilight Zone.
The monologues, both the opening and closing, are in fact my favorite of any in the series. But before the opening monologue, we see the first scene, in which we meet Herr Schmidt [Oscar Beregi]. Well, he is Herr Schmidt now. Less than two decades before the episode’s setting, he was someone else…on the outside. But as we see from his first scene, he doesn’t seem to have changed on the inside.
As Herr “Schmidt” trots off in a huff, Mr. Serling shows up to give the opening monologue.
Like my grandfather, Serling was a paratrooper in the Pacific Theater during WWII. His experiences during the war shaped the rest of his life. He suffered nightmares and flashbacks and it is clear that his service colored his writing. This episode is proof. Broadcast during the Eichmann trial, it is a sharp retort to the rotten cliche made famous at Nuremberg and repeated umpteenth times since: I was only following orders. Herr Schmidt, in actuality the former Captain Lutze, visits the camp at Dachau and finds that he’s not the only one who can’t let it go. At the camp, he meets Becker [Joseph Schildkraut], a former resident of the camp. Schildkraut’s work in this scene is outstanding, as he delivers an incredibly poignant reminder of who Lutze was and is. That bell? It’s tolling for you, Lutze.
It doesn’t exactly go well for Lutze after that. Some people just want to forget. However, as Serling explains in his stunning closing monologue, no one has the luxury of forgetting. We must leave reminders of our not-so-shining moments because that’s the only way we can avoid repeating them. That’s the only way we’ll ever really be golden.