The Allied Search for Justice Following WW2 | History Hit LIVE on Timeline

published on June 30, 2020

hello everybody welcome to history hit

live we've got another one for you of

course we have because we're here every

Monday Wednesday and Friday this time

we're gonna be talking to Professor

Andrew Williams he has written

extensively about post-war justice he's

written a book called a passing fairy

searching for justice at the end of

World War two hello and Chicago hello

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like a tour of the us who's here from

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Andrew answers your questions okay

Andrew welcome James tree hit line thank

you very much good to me Eve good to

meet you – I'm so named to meet in the

flesh that we're linking hands across

the internet the end of Kalina thank you

for your donation why at the end of the

Second World War was there this this

powerful drive for for justice in Italy

through the courts their legal sense yes

I mean it's a deep history because

obviously the whole war experience had

been long and bloody and awful and the

understanding that atrocity was the

hallmark of this conflict was felt very

early on and the understanding that the

Nazi regime was as evil as it was and

intent on inflicting such atrocities

across Europe I mean almost without

exception was was understood through

intelligence from the very first days of

the war so in in 1940 there were reports

of massacres by SS troops of retreating

British POWs for instance in the the

famous massacres ATLA parody and boom

hood but also who then as the war went

on it was quite clear that this regime

was intent on the extermination of

people's the Jewish people in particular

but others as well and this information

was filtering through

very strongly from 1941 onwards if not

before in public and that sense of

outrage at what was happening across

Europe was felt so deeply by the Allied

powers that the essential aim of the war

was to obtain some kind of justice as

well as victory so when it came to 1945

there was this deep-seated in India

surance to the public as well as sort of

politically that there had to be some

kind of resolution not just retribution

but resolution and I think maybe we can

talk about what what the sort of choices

were between the form of that

retribution but in terms of the idea of

a legal solution then that was something

that was developed towards the end of

the war in fact but based on a whole

understanding that there should be some

kind of very public very civilized

approach towards what was a hugely

uncivilized atrocious regime and was

this I mean that all seems fairly

obvious to us now doesn't it that there

should be a legal solution to this was

that sort of revolutionary at the time

what other people saying no just line

them up and shoot people without a trial

what was that what were their sort of

competing ideas about how that should be

resolved yeah I mean there were

suggestions that Churchill himself was

thinking that the best way to deal with

the Nazi regime and the the people who

were responsible was to take off the

leading Nazis across the piece the SS

and what-have-you and to execute them

after a sort of rudimentary form of

trial there wasn't the sense of having

necessarily any kind of long drawn-out

legal process far from it so there was

quite a degree of pressure particularly

by the British and to certain extent the

Soviets as well which wanted a quick

resolution removal of these people from

the scene and to get that quick justice

done and the experiences

the first world war i think was felt

here in that there was a determination

post 1918 that there should be some kind

of legal process for prosecuting german

war criminals as they were termed but

that fell to nothing in the end and it

was a really expensive failure it was

seen as a sort of a waste of time waste

of money and there were many people in

the British civil service for instance

who were intently worried about

developing a process that would be

hugely time-consuming hugely expensive

and ultimately achieved the same objects

but ultimately the the real drive for

having a trial in the form that we would

recognize it today pretty much although

with variations but really came from the

Americans and the American idea that

justice not only had to be done but it

had to be seen to be done and that that

phrase was really important throughout

in in drafting the the necessary charges

in drafting the form of justice so that

there should be some recognizable

criminal process albeit within a war

setting in effect and Robert Jackson was

a key player within that but so heavily

supported by Roosevelt and then Truman

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as well what what why what was what was

their motivation did they just the

biggest think it was the right thing to

do or was there a sense that this would

be some kind of lesson some kind of

precedent that that might Inge

might help to deter future future

aggressors yes you've got to see this in

the legal framework as it's sat in 1945

which was that the idea of prosecuting

individuals for crimes committed by

ineffective state however a legal list a

that that might be just didn't exist

really within international law there

wasn't any precedent so there was a

sense that there needed to be some kind

of demonstration of justice that would

be held out to the world a new world a

recovering world

that allowed for at this new process of

international law to be given some kind

of real substance there were other

motivations as well I mean Robert

Jackson expressed this really well in

his his memorandum to the president at

the time and really pushing for this

idea that there should be some both

reflection on what had happened that

there should be real demonstration of

the evidence of what happened and that

nish would mark itself out as a memorial

really to what had happened and his

intent was outlawed war outlined

outlawed this sort of aggressive war but

hold to account those really responsible

and up to that point trying to bring a

head of state to justice was just not

something that was was really done it

wasn't accepted in international law so

there were these various different

motivations and Robert Jackson again

expressed in terms of well the American

public needed to see something and the

world needed to see the horrors that

were being inflicted by the Nazi regime

so that people would learn from that so

they did and his intention was to create

this precedent for the future but also

at a memorial whereby people would

actually see and understand what the war

was all about and why it was so

important that it should lead to this

total victory we've got a really

interesting clip for you in a second but

just just don't ask you a quick question

first by the way thank you eh and

Switzerland for your donation and llena

as well for your donation to all going

to the co-head relief fund so thank you

very much everyone

I'm currently asked you there was the

famous Nuremberg trials but is that for

the major major war criminals but there

were smaller trials for specific crimes

like those committed at the

concentration camp in Belsen what was

the difference yeah sure I mean this is

where the justice was split into two it

was recognized particularly by the

Soviets they wanted some kind of show

trial the British too wanted to bring

the leaders to account and the Americans

as well and there was a sense that

people like Himmler Hitler himself if he

survived gurbles if he again he'd

survive during all the senior leadership

should be brought together for one major

war criminal trial that would express

the totality of the evil of the regime

and the massive atrocity but also very

early on from 1941 onwards and certainly

in 1943 by agreement there was a

determination that nobody should get

away with the cruelty the the

brutalities and the killings and the

exterminations so everybody who was

associated and involved in these crimes

these awful crimes had to be brought to

justice you couldn't do that in the

Nuremberg setting because we're talking

about thousands of individuals thousands

of members of the SS Gestapo

concentration camps and we'll come and

talk about concentration camps in a

moment but there was a an obvious sense

that these people had to be brought to

book as well and that led to trials

happening across the whole of Europe

thousands of trials operated by the

Americans the British the Soviets the

poles the Czechs

the French and that scheme of justice

wasn't defined by Nuremberg as such that

was for the the the overarching and

public demonstration but most of the

justice was supposed to be done over

what was called the minor war criminals

and though they weren't minor at all

because they included concentration camp

commandant the worst of the worst if you

like and so this two part form of

justice running in parallel was what

defined the sense of justice at the time

thanks very much

Andrew we'll come back to you in a

second we're gonna watch a remarkable

clip now from a documentary available on

timeline you choose best history channel

so it features the last living

prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials

talking about the origin those Charles

and thank you very much Shane if your

donation as well as let's take a look he

had surrendered unconditionally which

was the requirement time

the Allied powers British the French the

Americans and the Russians got together

and they had conferences and what to do

about the Germans and the Americans said

look we need trials you're cruisin with

crime give them a day in court let him

come in present the evidence you present

the hakka calculon's have judges there

who will judge it as we in America do

says on the Supreme Court building

justice on the law law applies equally

to everyone give them a fair trial the

wrongs which we seek to condemn and

punish have been so calculated so

malignant and so devastating that

civilization cannot tolerate their being

ignored because it cannot survive

they're being repeated right everybody

we're back with Professor Andrew

Williams now and we're talking about

justice we're talking about the struggle

to prosecute war criminals following the

Second World War and hi everybody lots

of people particularly from the us say

hello or Moreau in Tampa how you doing

um Andrew well they did when the Allies

decided they'd go down this legal route

and did they realize just how big a job

you mentioned there were thousands of

trials and they realize how big a job

this was going to be I think they should

have done I don't think they've really

appreciated it I mean we have to

remember that the determination to do

this scheme of justice was made before

the end of the war so that we were still

fighting a vicious set of battles across

the European sector and of course the

war was still being fought elsewhere but

this sense of still needing victory and

still worried about the possible

resistance by Germany was still very

much in place so the resources and the

understanding of what was going to be

needed in order to bring about an

effective sort of determination of idea

principle of justice I don't think was

truly understood some of the

evidence as being accumulated for sure

and there were investigation teams

already operating in France

investigating particular killings of

POWs the Canadians were very strong in

this as well as the Americans and the

British that worked very much in

partnership but they were very small

Affairs and it was only when the

discovery of the concentration camps in

particular at order of and then booked

involved and in short order Belson

Bergen Belsen as well that they suddenly

realize is that the scale of offense was

so great and so many people were engaged

in it that they clearly weren't prepared

for what was going to be needed in order

to present all these trials across

Europe and there's some reasons for that

and we can talk about the sort of

complexities of that but they weren't

truly prepared because they just didn't

have the resources assigned to this

particular venture and that really

hampered things because you didn't have

a a an investigative force just ready to

move into these locations to undertake

the investigation so I think they were

taken by surprise but in hindsight and

hindsight's a wonderful thing but in

hindsight many people would see that as

a failure a failure of preparation you

mentioned investigative force who was

who was tracking down who was pressing

charges

who decided how these trials would be

convened right well I mean in terms of

the initial investigations were

happening in 44 and they were looking

into some historic ones like the Paradis

massacre in prior to Dunkirk and the

Americans were very intent on finding

those responsible for killing of GIS in

battle of bulge whether executions and

various other infamous massacres so

small investigative units were operating

out of the supreme headquarters of the

Allied expeditionary force across Europe

at that time but very small so

it was only when the end of the war came

and particularly with the discovery

bergen-belsen that there was a potato

war crimes units sent out brought

together and it was very ad hoc there

were a lot of people brought on board

who weren't investigators they weren't

necessarily lawyers they might have had

some legal background but mostly it was

sort of coupled together very quickly

with the idea that they were trying to

hunt down those people responsible

because of course they didn't just end

up in their laps they had to find them

most of the time there were exceptions

to that but in order to identify those

responsible they also had to identify

what crimes they had actually committed

so the Americans were very had a much

larger war crimes investigation team

than the British but they were still

operating in the same difficult

territory and with the same legal

evidential problems at hand so that's

what they were looking at really was a

sort of trying to decide how to split up

the countries between themselves so the

British took the Northwest Germany and

the Americans the south and in that way

they try to separate sort of

responsibilities let's um let's take

another look now a bit of a documentary

that's available on timeline when it

talks about the teams that were put

together for the trials like most

famously the Nuremberg trials let's take

this out in the French and the Russians

sent their best jurors to appears and

churches are hold a trial the trials

were open to the public

they were filmed the evidence was

submitted the guilt was overwhelming

merely as individuals their fate is of

little consequence to the world what

makes this inquest significant is that

these prisoners represent sinister

influences but will lurk in the world

long after their bodies have returned to

dust

the fate of these men now lies entirely

with your conscience this is beyond our

competence how it is for you in the

silence of your deliberations to listen

to innocent blood crying for justice hi

everybody we are back with Professor

Andrew Williams now we are talking about

justice we're talking about the trials

that followed the Second World War in

Europe Andrew you mentioned that the USA

took south of Germany and Britain took

Northwest Germany

um what would some of the some of the

some of the cases tried in in this

British sect I'm am afraid to Belsen of

course we just had the anniversary of

the liberation of belsen that that was

probably the most famous in in their

purview was it yes it was it was the the

first major trial and the the peculiar

thing about the bergen-belsen trial is

that when they liberated Bergen Belsen

the SS command was instructed to stay

unlike many of the other concentration

camps so they were arrested immediately

so they knew who the Commandant was and

the the doctor and the the senior

members of the SS there so the Bergen

Belsen trial was also and this this was

the aspect of it was a sort of sink

place for many concentration camp

survivors who were being moved across

Europe at the end of the war away from

the Russian sector away from the

American sector pushing up from the

south so it was a whole conglomeration

of people and SS as well and the

Commandant of belsen

Josef Kramer was also commandant of

Auschwitz Birkenau the contra the

extermination camp of Auschwitz for a

number of years and that therefore

brought out writs and the extermination

of the Jews the whole Holocaust into the

the the sense of the trial so Belsen

Bergen Belsen was seen as really the the

flagship of the new trials to test it

out so there was a a big push to get

Bergen Belsen as a trial up and running

soon as possible and indeed it did start

in September of 1945 so remarkably

quickly with 42 defendants of whom

Joseph Kramer was of course the the

leading accused because he brought this

example of what the Nazi extermination

was doing elsewhere in Germany it

brought the Holocaust right to the

forefront of a trial so in parallel to

that and this is where we see how many

that the justice was done were many of

these small war crimes trials which word

to do with withholding supplies to POWs

for instance or looking at the

interrogation of Aircraftman so

relatively small affairs but next to

bergen-belsen

they were nothing really but they were

still happening but Belsen was the key

trial for the british and when we just

we saw a recent war crimes trial

slobodan milosevic accused of war crimes

in cassabi

he spent alone all this time criticizing

and complain and and refusing to

recognize the authority of the process

this trial at Belsen I mean was it was

it recognizable as it was a trial for us

did the Germans try and defend

themselves with what was it decried as a

show trial or and objectively what how

would you sort of judge now its its

judicial process yeah I mean it was it

was a common British criminal trial

really in in extraordinary circumstances

there were solicitors appointed to the

accused they were British British

officers in the army but who were

solicitors and they were appointed to

defend the accused to the best they

could and they tried to do that and

there was quite extraordinary

circumstances that as far as the

appointment of those they were given one

week in in Joseph Kramer's attorneys

situation to prepare the case before it

started and Thomas when word was the the

captain who was brought on board to

defend him so they had defense

but it was fairly rudimentary it was

certainly rushed but for all intents and

purposes it looked like a just a massive

criminal trial and although there were

cameras and obviously the circumstances

were extraordinary

it had that veneer of a normal criminal

trial so we had witnesses appearing

those survivors some survivors from the

camp testifying to the individual

culpability of the people brought before

the tribunal you had that testimony

being accumulated documentary evidence

and you hand cross-examination and

examination achieved that all the normal

setup of a criminal trial but there was

this sense that it was being rushed so

it was really being pushed through

because there was this huge political

pressure to get justice done to get this

sense of a resolution for the world to

see that something was happening because

by that point nieuwenburg hadn't even

started by then so it was it was a

really important idea that justice was

moving but that's so fast and the

defendants tried to defend themselves

and they engage in this they accepted

this process yes I mean they did the

defense did make the claim they

shouldn't recognize the court because it

wasn't a German Court for instance it

wasn't it was an allied it was British

Court

they said the charges were not

appropriate but ultimately when that was

dismissed by the Judge Advocate it went

to the the familiar defense which was it

wasn't my fault I was under taking

orders I had no choice these kind of

familiar defenses when it comes to

military action were trotted out by the

defendants and you did have Joseph

Kramer particularly the Commandant

saying that he wasn't in charge of the

selections at Auschwitz he was just

overseeing them he had no choice but to

operate the camp as he was instructed

and he had the dr Fritz Klein saying he

was selecting people coming off the

trains for the gas chambers or no

depending on who he was forced to take

and that actually he saw his role as

something of a savior for those he

didn't select so there were there were

some real problematic arguments being

put forward by the defendants but they

did try to sort of deny culpability to

suggest that this wasn't something that

they were in control of that they just

had no choice but to carry out their

orders that was as far as Irish was

concerned as far as Belsen was concerned

their defense was slightly different I

mean for a Kramer it was very much that

he did all he could for the inmates but

that he was faced by influxes of

concentration camp internees coming from

all the other camps across Europe and

breeam brought to this hellhole of

bergen-belsen where typhus really ripped

apart the heart of the people it there

the cruelty and brutality lack of food

all contributing but diseased as well

and he was putting up his hand and said

I have no I had no choice you know I did

my best I asked for more resources I

asked for more supplies they didn't give

it to me it's not my fault and it was

that kind of defense that ultimately

failed of course but nonetheless it was

it was played through and there wasn't

any sense that the trial didn't reflect

has thought abnormal criminal trial we

got two more clicks to play now I just

want to check a play this first one

which is again this final prosecutor

been talking about his role at Nuremberg

let's take a look in this case the

victims were killed simply because they

didn't share the race the religion or

the ideology of their executioner's and

I thought of the young Howard or a Jew

eight that's horrible and if we can

create a new rule of law which asserts

the right of all human beings to live in

peace and dignity regardless of their

race or creed or color then we will have

created something of permanent value and

that's what I have to do I got on the

next plane going from Berlin to

Nuremberg I went to Nuremberg yeah

caleb was ended general against the

motor from Colonel I said general we got

to put on a new trial so they hide them

I became the chief prosecutor of the

largest murder trial in human history

right we're back with Andrew Williams

now we are talking about the struggle

for justice that was the Nuremberg

trials you just saw but there were other

trials going on across Germany now I

learned from Andrew Williams thank you

very much Joey Finley as everything of

the nation very very generous of your

donations go the coated international

relief fund Andrew you know you you've

already talked about this

I was only obeying orders this is

something we've all come to associate

with the defense of war criminals or

people on trial for war crimes following

the Second World War and I wonder if you

could just tell me a little bit about

why that defense you know it wasn't was

not it was not exculpatory at the time

what why is it why was it not enough to

say we were just doing what we were told

we'd be shot if we weren't yeah this was

the sort of lynchpin of Nuremberg or one

of the fundamental principles that were

determined at this high policy level

which is that if you accepted the

argument that just following orders

could be a defense and of course

everybody other than the leader of the

whole nation could make that argument so

the Nuremberg principles made it very

clear that if justice was to be done

you couldn't allow that kind of defense

to play out and it it there was a sort

of sophisticated moral argument that was

presented here which was that there

should have been a moral choice for

those who were put in that position of

being ordered to commit atrocities to

say no many defendants and this was

across all the trials in in Germany

particularly was say look we didn't have

any choice if we hadn't carried out our

orders we ourselves would have been shot

we didn't have a moral choice but that

was dismissed as an argument because

there were too many occasions when

people actually were given the choice

and just didn't didn't it didn't take it

or never raised any objection so there

was the sense that they never actually

tried this idea of having some kind of

choice in those circumstances so very

early on there was a determination that

following orders could not be used as a

sort of blanket defense if there were

circumstances where

the defendant could prove that a gun was

put to them ahead or there was immediate

physical danger for themselves then that

could be taken into account but as a

starting principal you couldn't just use

it as a blanket defense because it would

eradicate any kind of charge in effect

different all defenses were succeed so

that was really important at Nuremberg

to establish that as a principle not

only for the minions if you like the the

mass of the SS and all those people at

the concentration camp cards but also

for the top the senior leadership who

could have said well Hitler told us to

do it to do this and if we hadn't we

would ourselves being persecuted so they

had to remove that I'm Andrew we'll come

back to you for some concluding thoughts

in just a second let's watch the final

clip now from our documentary on

timeline about the Nuremberg trials this

is about the convictions and the

sentences and roads won't ask you about

the kitchen that I came out with to

capture coffee and my friend came out of

the kitchen was to capture caught we

said that was like Goering and pop and

then whoever happened to be sitting on

the terrace and we talked I mean they

their answer to that was we did what we

were told to do the orders came down

from headquarters this is what you had

to do the military men did what they had

to do hi accused 22 defense elected by

me on the basis of their education when

you met PhD one had a double doctorate

and their right generals Colonels of the

SS I rested my case in two days

i convicted all of them there they were

you know they feared for their life for

one thing justifiably I mean they knew

about the laws that they were

door none trial for film title death by

hanging you are him for Ribbentrop death

by hanging

though helm Hermann Goering guilty of

conspiracy crimes against peace war

crimes and crimes against humanity death

by hanging

or there's Hermann Goering there at the

end of that clip looking rightly

chastened it's a shame he never served

this time or got his sentence because of

course he made commit suicide

Andrew Williams what about the other

some of the other trials what about

Belson what was justice served or good

question for some yes for others no so

for those who supported it it was seen

as a vindication of process in the sense

that the commandant and eleven others

were sentenced to death their crimes

were well documented and expressed and

there was a real sense that those people

deserved what they got but there were

quite a few acquittals as well of lower

ranking SS but they were still guards

and they were still members of the SS

and they were still operating in

concentration camps so the Soviet Union

in particular and many others were

depressed I suppose by the fact that

British justice in this way could lead

to the acquittal of people who were

membership members of these illegal

organizations and in these awful

circumstances knowing how the discipline

was operated in these camps and what the

purpose of these camps were for the most

part so there it was a sense that yes

there were some strides made but a real

fear that it allowed this idea that

membership of the SS was was not not in

itself a problem that if you didn't do

or he couldn't be proved to have done

something wrong and it did require for

the British some actual act of violence

that could be proved then you could be

acquitted and that

that's stuck in the craw for many people

who saw particularly the SS and

particularly the the the SS responsible

for the concentration camps and the Pio

Pio W camps they saw this as a a failure

of justice it's really hard because

there is a sense that it was successful

in that sense at being immediate justice

but there were these floors these

criticisms and these worries that that

would filter through to the remainder of

the trials and then of course it's

important to know that these trials

carried on for a few years but they

really did Peter out after Nuremberg

they started to be there was less

political interest in them there was

less resources applied to them and

ultimately there was a winding down of

justice so that although Belsen was the

first and most impressive to the British

there were others but they absolutely

got no public attention really at all or

very little um

evil monkey boy thank you very much for

your donation it is indeed a really

compelling story thank you for that

Anders it was a difference in the

sentences handed down by by British or

an American judges well not really I

mean there were there was it was always

the the determination that in Belsen if

somebody had committed were seen as a

capital crime it was just a hill

treatment then long prison sentences

would be applied the Americans did that

too so ten years fifteen years was a

sort of normal sentence should be said

that most were released within about

five or six years even less with the

sort of arrangement with West Germany at

the time so most people were out by 1950

51 which remarkably quick time but the

Americans approach towards the

concentration camp trials for Dachau and

Mauthausen was very much that the death

sentence was the principal sentence to

gear so of of the 60 odd defendants in

Dachau for instance almost all barre3

were handed down with a sentence of

death so it was very different from

bergen-belsen the American approach was

was quite straight forward with the

was guilt by association there was

complicity and that therefore being part

of this concentration camp system and

being part of the discipline and and the

atrocities that were taking place there

meant that you should be held to account

and that's what they did and there was a

difference of approach between the

American and the British for a while but

they wrote back on it as well they lost

interest as well and certainly the later

trials were not as condemned natori I

suppose as the early initiatives

I guess lastly what is the legacy of

these trials I mean do is this something

it is it's a milestone on a world on a

journey it which has which will one day

perhaps leads a world in which crimes

wherever they're committed in it will

will be will be tried in a court rather

than perhaps punished only on the

battlefield yes that's right I mean

there there is this sense that the

International Criminal Court of today

which has a lot of problems and a lot of

political opposition too but nonetheless

that sense of will justice if you like

whenever the world is faced by these

atrocities one of the charges at

Nuremberg crimes against humanity is

this idea that the whole of humanity

bears responsibility to see some kind of

accountability for those who committed

it and that all takes us back whatever

initiatives that we have today with that

international arena all takes us back to

Nuremberg without Nuremberg without the

the legal definition without the

construction and without the operation

of those trials we wouldn't have that

sense of possibility but there's it's a

long way from any kind of sense that

this is the norm it is an it's still the

exception but nonetheless the groundwork

whatever groundwork and however flawed

it was is set in in both Nuremberg and I

would say in all those other trials and

it's unfortunate that all those other

trials have been largely forgotten in

history everything has been sucked up by

by Nuremberg and I think I mean this is

why I wrote my book was was the idea of

bringing back that sense of ink

agent with justice on a much broader

scale the Nuremberg itself would

indicate well thank you thank you so

much Andrew Williams your book is called

a passing fury searching for justice at

the end of World War two as you points

out there at the end it couldn't be a

more important story and a story that we

don't know where it ends we do not know

where that story ends yet um thank you

for coming on on the show we are back

every single Monday Wednesday Friday and

by the way this Friday we are taking

history at live on the road yes we are

to a secret location at place well I can

tell you it's a ship that changed the

history of the world I'm going to be

broadcasting live from there we're

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out this Friday 8:00 am Pacific 11:00

am Eastern and 4 pm UK time as you

saw on the banner underneath Andrew go

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thank you very much see you next time

everybody thank you

hi everybody thank you for watching

history hit live we are here for the

long haul it's gonna be a regular slot 4

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history channel 4 pm UK time 11:00

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