Jonathan Dimbleby on dad’s ‘angry’ threat to BBC bosses over stark holocaust report

Jonathan Dimbleby, 75, is probably best known for his investigative documentaries, with the most recent airing tonight on ITV. Return to Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp in northern Germany, was originally established as a prisoner of war camp in 1943. The landmark documentary focuses on the horrors within the walls, marking 75 years since its liberation.

He was so angry at their reaction that he told them he would never make another broadcast in his life if it was not transmitted. They relented

Jonathan Dimbleby

Jonathan has created many a documentary over his career spanning over 50 years, but the inspiration behind his latest came from his father.

Richard Dimbleby was the BBC’s first war correspondent, accompanying troops to war-torn cities and reporting from the front-line.

Jonathan’s 60-minute programme follows him as he retraces his father’s footsteps when he accompanied the British 11th Armoured Division to the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

He was one of the first to report on the unimaginable horror that lay inside, where an estimated 70,000 people died.

He broke down on multiple occasions as he was overcome with raw emotion at what he was greeted with.

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After the BBC initially refused to play the report on-air for fears that it would be “too distressing” to listeners, it was only broadcast after Richard threatened to resign.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Times, Jonathan recalls his dad’s “angry” threat, which led to the publishing of one of the most harrowing reports of wartime history.

“From today’s standpoint, it seems grotesque that his bosses initially refused to put it out because they thought it would distress too many listeners – and also, perhaps, because they feared he might have exaggerated the truth,” he told the publication.

“He was so angry at their reaction that he told them he would never make another broadcast in his life if it was not transmitted. They relented.”

The audio report, which now lodges as an important document in the Holocaust archives, is still available to listen to on BBC’s website.

Jonathan explained that many of the survivors of the camp and the soldiers who liberated it were so “traumatised”, they never spoke about it.

“My father, who later became the most eminent broadcaster of his era, never said a word about Belsen to me,” he admitted.

“I understand why he preferred to bury it and ‘move on’, but I wish now that I had asked him.”

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Richard branded Belsen as “the world of a nightmare” in the wartime report, which Jonathan revealed he only heard after his father died.

“It brought me to tears then, as it still does today. And that’s not just filial piety. I have heard again and again that it has had a similar effect on many, many others.”

In his documentary, he visits the camp along with a survivor and the daughter of a survivor, who “calmly” recollect “playing among the dead and the dying”.

He likened the scenes now to that of a “nature reserve”, with “vast, desolate space, rough grass and tracks surrounded by a forest of birch trees”, until you see the mounds that cover the concealed graves of the thousands that died there.

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Jonathan is no stranger to warzones himself, having reported from all over the world.

He added: “I’ve seen unspeakable things – dead and dying people in terrible abundance, though nothing I’ve witnessed bears comparison.”

He ends the ITV documentary with the same words that his father used in 1945, as a stark reminder of history.

He repeats: “There is one thing you must do and that is vow with all your heart such things will never happen again.”

Jonathan Dimbleby’s full interview is available now in Radio Times [RADIO TIMES]

Jonathan is no stranger to warzones himself, having reported from all over the world.

He added: “I’ve seen unspeakable things – dead and dying people in terrible abundance, though nothing I’ve witnessed bears comparison.”

He ends the ITV documentary with the same words that his father used in 1945, as a stark reminder of history.

He repeats: “There is one thing you must do and that is vow with all your heart such things will never happen again.”

Return To Belsen with Jonathan Dimbleby airs tonight at 9pm on ITV.

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