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April 1945: Gregor Hecker, 19 years of age, reaches the outskirts of Berlin as part of the Red Army's scouting team. Having fled Germany with his family when he was eight, he is confronted with the dilemma of having to fight men from the very country he was born in. Through dealing with challenging situations (e.g. he is appointed commander of Bernau, talks to many disillusioned Germans, and is once and again attacked by scattered groups of German soldiers), he grows more confident that not all hope is lost for post-war Germany. Based on the diary entries of director Konrad Wolf, the episodic movie authentically portrays the protagonist's struggle to come to terms with his own past and identity. Written by
Soviet/East German propaganda, sugar coating history
I rented this film because of an interest in German culture and history. I lived there for a while, and have a (former East-) German wife and relatives. My wife, who was 11 in 1945 when this film takes place, says that it was much worse then than the movie shows, particularly with regard to the utter devastation, starvation, and behavior of the Russian soldiers. Few women between ages of 13 and 50 escaped being raped, and most boys of her age and a bit older were taken away and never seen again. After reunification, the mass graves of many of them, killed by Russians, have been found. Her father, who was never a soldier or Nazi, was shipped off to slave labor in Kazakhstan for about ten years. In the movie, it is implied that the surrendering German soldiers were rewarded with extra food, and then sent home. Get real.
The intent of the movie, made in the GDR at a time when they were barraged with propaganda trying to make them believe that Russians were their friends, is obvious.
Nevertheless, I did enjoy watching it, because even propaganda can be interesting for what it is. (Example: Triumph of the Will, which is infinitely better than this movie). The events involving the surrender of Spandau prison to the 19 year old Russian "commandant", which may have been based on fact and the director's own experience, were of particular interest, and well dramatized.
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