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Small farmers under fascist and Bolshevist dictatorships
The TV series Wege uebers Land is an impressive description of the peasants life in North-Europe between 1939 and 1953. Although this so-called Aufbau (build-up) film was made in 1968 in the Bolshevist part of Germany (German Democratic Republic, GDR), the similarity with the American "cowboy" tales about the early migrant settlers is striking. And naturally many of these settlers actually came from North Europe. We get acquainted with the small agricultural community of Rackhofen in Mecklenburg, and the joys, hopes and fears of her people. Life still shows the remnants of the feudal system, which until WWI was typical for the region. The Nazi fascist regime is in power, and popular with the large farmers and the local countess (confer in American series the rich cattle-breeder, who owns the local grocery store, the sheriff, the casino and the brothel). The good guys are the small folks, who in Wege uebers Land are or should be represented by the Bolsheviks. The complete epic takes about seven hours, and can be roughly divided into three episodes. First, there is the German subjection of Poland, and the subsequent Germanization (1939-1944). The second episode concerns the downfall of the ancient social structures in Rackhofen, and the installation of the Bolsheviks (1944-1948). In the third and last episode the Bolsheviks start the system transformation (1948-1953). To be honest, the first episode is by far the best part of the series. The fascist cruelties are shown in a highly authentic and frank way (credible would not be the right word). We witness the deportation of the Polish intellectuals, of the tenant farmers and of the Jews, and the deliberations of the fascist administrators in such detail, that for me it is unprecedented. The narrative is deepened by the fact, that the main characters, a naive farmers family from Rackhofen, play the role of the devil, when they move to the occupied territory in order to replace the Polish farmers. Probably the German film-goers could identify with this couple, since its majority had at the time collaborated with the fascist regime. In comparison the second episode gives a distorted view, since the Bolshevist expropriations and the suppression of resistance are portrayed as a naughty monkey-trick. The final episode is mainly propaganda, when all the small folks turn into devoted and happy Bolsheviks. The film cast is excellent. Manfred Krug, who impressed me in "Beschreibung eines Sommers" and who looks like a combination of Marlon Brando and John Wayne, plays the role of the sincere Bolshevik. Armin Mueller-Stahl, the German Jean-Paul Belmondo, is the gentleman-farmer. And Ursula Karusseit and Erik Klein are the ambitious and chilly small farmers family. None of these characters excites feelings of sympathy. Of course the makers of the film try to promote the sincere Bolshevik. However his pedantry is irritating, and his actions are sometimes pretty gruesome. He expropriates the cattle of the local farmers, and throws a protesting miller in jail, without food. The castle of the countess is simply rifled. Note that the Bolshevist reality was actually worse than shown in Wege uebers Land. Many former dignitaries were imprisoned, including those without a fascist past. Fierce resistance and sabotage were punished with the death penalty. The land of the gentleman-farmers was distributed between the small farmers, but soon (in the third episode) the small farmers were forced to join large collective agricultural enterprises (so-called LPGs). Those who refused became the victim of pestering by the regime. In the film the sincere Bolshevik (now the mayor of Rackhofen) ardently argues that large scale farming is an economic necessity - just like Bolshevism itself was supposed to be a historic necessity. Although some of these enterprises exist until today, we know now that other forms of farming can be as competitive. The Bolshevist agricultural experiment with all its repression and misery was a mistake. In conclusion, although little joy can be found in the fascist and Bolshevist dictatorships, Wege uebers Land is definitely worth watching, especially the first 150 minutes. The episodes about the Aufbau period give an impression about the Bolshevist transformation, if you make your own corrections for the caricatured rendering of the event (but hey, it is only fiction anyway!).
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