25 December 2013 | nodialogue
open to a female audience, entertaining, historically accurate - not representative
What characterizes the German perspective of this mini-series? The Wehrmacht's invasion into the Soviet Union defines Germany's memory of WW2. This campaign lasted the longest 1941-1945, covered the largest front-line, involved the most soldiers, it is where the Wehrmacht suffered 90% of its 2 million dead, it is where Germany was defeated.
Realistic or not? As a former German conscript soldier born 1968 I recognize the depiction of military behavior, group dynamics and everyday-life of soldiers in a German context. However, I would expect more vulgar language. Other than that, I lack authority to judge.
The question whether or not this series is authentic is twofold ? First, is it true to history? The Wehrmacht's invasion into Eastern Europe and Russia accounts for the majority of deaths by war or genocide in the European theater of WW2. Regardless of modern technology, this war was still predominantly fought by the common infantry man and suffered by civilians. The series reflects these facts. But it never establishes the Wehrmacht as the efficient and dangerous fighting force it was, even during defeat.
Second, is the narrative authentic ? The series illustrates the recollection of my grandfather's generation and their perspective as I heard it from them. In that sense, some undertones are both apologetic and authentic to that generation's testimony. As an ambition, the series aggregates many personal memories into one narrative.
The visual impact of the combat scenes feels intense. The stain of a period drama, costumes and uniforms, disappears into the spectator's excitement easily after 5 minutes. Cutting into black-and-white newsreel footage feels smooth and provides perspectives a film on a budget small compared against the actual event cannot. The staged shots create an illusion of conquering a large landmass and moving in foreign territory.
The dramatization follows the generation born in the 1920s: one German Jew, two soldiers and two women. The story reunites the five in fabricated coincidences. Does this overstretch the artistic license? No, for it serves to re-examine the change both of the individual characters and their relations to each other as a result of violent experiences. More frequently observed is the changing relationship of two brothers, different in character, different in response to shared hardship.
The series explores the nature of what in modern terms would be called war-2.0 . Traditional war was but a means to an end that, at least in principle, could be achieved otherwise. War-2.0 kills for the sake of killing. In this series you'll see the Wehrmacht routinely executing civilians with the SS or alone. War-2.0 applies traditional warfare to the goal of genocide.
The series remains silent about the motives. It shies away from showing the deep racism, antisemitism, the cool institutionalized execution of genocide. When Friedhelm yells at his brother "there is no purpose, no sense (Es gibt keinen Sinn) " to express his desperation he is obviously blind to the genocidal intent of the campaign. The Nazi criminals appear as people of bad character to which their genocidal beliefs are but an accessory. Nowhere do we see a German as an educated , sympathetic individual, whose only flaw were his racism and antisemitism. The series only presents this type as a Polish partisan.
Entering the third part, one is sucked into an ever closer marriage of survival and killing but gets trapped by Nazi patterns of thinking. The Nazis created the myth of the German people fighting for survival facing the Eastern peoples in order to legitimate the genocide, preplanned from day one. The film implicitly picks up that image of survival. Initially it were millions of men and women in Eastern Europe, millions of Jews who fought for survival - not the Wehrmacht. While the series appears apologetic on some subjects it completely refrains from accusing the Red Army.
What about guilt? The soldiers portrayed in their early twenties were not the generation who planned the genocide, nor did they cheer Hitler into office. The swift and easy Wehrmacht victories in Western Europe motivated German soldiers, the series reveals. The story leaves the spectator with the crucial question: what, given the circumstances, could one have done differently at the age of 23 ? The series suggests that the line of guilt separates the generations rather than the good from the bad combat soldiers. It is the older generation who abused the young generation as the instrument of war. The series offers an iconic scene to justify my interpretation. It shows a German soldier in an act of self-sacrifice and redemption (I shall not disclose the details here).
I cannot grant redemption. The act benefits only German soldiers but none of their victims. De- humanization and cruelty out of racism characterize WW2. Uncompromising loyalty to one's own ethnic group sits at the core of extreme racism. It is this exact loyalty the film upholds in part 3.
I recommend the series. "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter / Generation War" entertains. Using 3x1.5hours, the vast scale of WW2, the nature of the violence and the depth of personal experience come alive. It opens the subject of WW2 to a female audience who can identify with the rich female characters. Poles, Ukrainians, Russians will find the German perspective accessible for it correctly places the horror of WW2 in their home-countries. The series provides substance to a serious debate by being historically accurate, though not representative.