Neither project has an air date yet, but some Jewish scholars are especially uncomfortable about TV shows that may try to explain why and how Hitler became a butcher. "By doing this we're almost giving celebrity to evil," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. "It's is totally irrelevant. Whatever he was like as a teenager or what his sexuality was is irrelevant. All that matters is that this is a monster who we should despise and condemn."
The problems of "humanizing" Hitler proved so controversial that the BBC dropped plans last month to make its own miniseries that was to star Robert Downey Jr. as the dictator.
Klein, the son of concentration camp survivors, says the danger of showing Hitler on film in a normal light is that it viewers might lose sight of the fact that his victims were everyday people. "His actions and beliefs were so evil and it only diminishes their evil to try and attribute human qualities to this monster of our times," he said.
"On the one hand it's a wonderful impulse to try and understand other people and history," says Dr. Ruth Weiss, a professor of Yiddish at Harvard University. "But if a person really thinks that they can dramatically bring to life the personality of Hitler, then I would like to know how they have these insights into him. "I think it's an interesting question to ask: Who are these film-makers who feel this tremendous dramatic, emotional or intellectual affinity to Hitler?"
The HBO documentary is based on "The Hidden Hitler" by German history professor Lothar Machtan, which was slammed by critics for coming "perilously close to blaming the entire Holocaust on Hitler's alleged sexuality."
The HBO film, slated for sometime in 2004, is being produced by the same production company behind last year's Monica Lewinsky documentary, "Monica in Black and White."
CBS has been moving slowly on its Hitler-as-teenager project since anouncing its plan last summer to make a miniseries based on the two-volume Ian Kershaw biography of the German dictator - "Hitler, 1899-1936: Hubris." Stockard Channing ("West Wing") has been hired to play Hitler's mother but no shooting schedule has been announced yet. "I also think this is a very timely subject about how bad guys get into power and how it affects the rest of the world," CBS boss Les Moonves said.