My Private War (1990) Poster

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jan onderwater4 September 1999
Fascinating but a bit repetitive documentary in which the events at the German/Russian front are told by 6 German ex-soldiers. These soldiers had their 8mm cameras on them at the front and a lot of the unique material (some in colour!) is shown. Out of the interviews and in combination with the shown films comes quite another image of the Wehrmacht (soldier) than as the Wehrmacht is portrayed in the "08/15" films by Paul May and more recently (same year of release, as a matter of fact!) in Joseph Vilsmaier's well-meant but failing "Stalingrad" (q.v.).

One of the more recent, public questions about the Wehrmacht's conduct in Russia is (as résumé): Did the Wehrmacht behave as soldiers or as a combination of Nazi/soldier? I would not claim to have the answer myself based on this documentary, but there are some remarkable things to be heard and seen here. Not only the shooting of Russian civilians is shown (and thus filmed by the soldier concerned!), on the question to one of the men whether he participated in such shootings himself, he says (not verbatim): "Please spare me to have to answer this question". At least two of the friendly gentlemen are still proud to have been at the Russian front. One of them is imagining how Russia could have been conquered after all, if HQ had done only this and that; it is very revealing that the thought that the invasion of Russia should not have taken place at all and that this offensive war was based on National-Socialist politics, in almost 45 years never entered his mind (how many older Germans still think likewise).

The weak point of the documentary is that the makers never put the questions (neither to the ex-soldiers nor themselves): What did the soldiers do with the material after coming home and in the 45 years after?; Was it ever shown as a treat for the family?. What was the reaction at home to e.g. the shooting of the Russian civilians?; do not forget that the showing of this kind of images in the official German newsreel "Die Deutsche Wochenschau" was not allowed by Goebbels. It is too bad that the makers skipped these questions, as it is now the subject is not finished.
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One of the best WWII documentaries
chandler-5356327 March 2017
I am not one to give out 10 star reviews, but this documentary deserves every star. The footage shown in this documentary is absolutely amazing, because it is actual home footage and not propaganda shots. What really makes this documentary stellar is the interviews with the German veterans who filmed the war. It's one thing to see war footage, but to have commentary from the actual soldier who filmed it is truly amazing. It is a shame that the documentary is not longer or more comprehensive, but regardless it is a masterpiece in terms of showing unseen footage. Highly recommend watching if you are a history buff or interested in WWII. It is hard to get a hold of this film, but is well worth it.
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A great documentary that appears to have no hidden agenda
ToonRaider15 October 2012
"My Private War" is exactly that; a World War II documentary with the freedom to pursue the personal truths of six German soldiers, unhindered by the finger wagging of moralists.

One of the criticisms of this piece is its lack of probing questions. For me, that's its strength. We have more than enough footage of soldiers being questioned about their personal motivation for getting involved in the war. Surely, that is a stupid question to ask anybody swept up in the rise of the Third Reich? One of Nazi Germany's greatest 'strengths' was her ability to crush any and all opposition. Never before has such a controversial doctrine enjoyed such popularity. Do we expect that mere individuals should have had any power to reject its mesmerising allure? Even those more enlightened individuals, who knew all too well the evil that was lurking ominously around the corner, could do nothing to stop it. How then could anybody expect one of the smallest cogs in such a powerful machine, a cog threatened with its own merciless destruction and the destruction of those it loved, to resist? Asking that question is just insulting and brings nothing to the table other than yet further humiliation. As one of the German soldiers says himself: save me from answering that question.

It's been 70 years; those that ever will, have already repented.

Anyway, what I loved about this documentary was its admiration of pure fact. Opinion, other than that freely expressed by the soldiers themselves, is neutral.

It's a great homage to the wonderful adage: the camera never lies.
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Outstanding and candid glimpse of a major event in history.
PWNYCNY27 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A candid expose of the German invasion of the Soviet Union as told by some of the soldiers who participated in the event. The film clips do not contain any material that offer news glimpses of the war on the Eastern Front. But what they do confirm is the utter brutality of the battle and of the brutalization that it caused. The soldiers themselves are smug, unapologetic and in way proud of their service. What is remarkable is that they knew that Germany could not win, yet they opted to continue fighting, even during the retreat. One claimed that morale within the ranks was high. Another soldier said that having been in the war afforded him an opportunity to see many countries. That these soldiers were part of an army that deliberately plundered and burned everything, especially as they were retreating, seems not to have bothered them in the least. One did concede that the Russians were in fact human, just like him. He had no idea what happened to the 90,000 Russian POWs that he filmed. The film clips show German soldiers cavorting with prostitutes, looting, burning houses, hanging civilians accused of anti-German activities, and women burying the dead in mass graves, something that the German soldiers would never do. The documentary is presented in a straightforward style, with little spin or moralizing, leaving it to the audience to decide issues of right and wrong and of responsibility. A curious moment is a clip of the parents visiting one of the soldiers while he was convalescing. The parents seemed to be nice people; the same cannot be said for the son. One can only wonder what went wrong. Then again, the same question can be applied to the entire German Third Reich.
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Non-chronological, yet revealing (SPOILERS!)
zardoz1228 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Simply the home movies of five Heer soldaten (German army soldiers) and one Luftwaffe (air force) bomber crewman, footage exposed on the Eastern Front (1941-5.) We see their training in Germany, their bizarre calesthenic exercises, driving eastward on train or captured French Panard armored cars (France fell to the Wehrmacht [German military] in 1940), passing through bombed-out Poland, arriving on the Soviet border a day before the invasion. From then on the footage jumps around from 1941 to 1944. We see the brutal Russian winters, the wonderful springs, the boiling summers. Late in the film we see film of six Jews hanging on a group gallows; a placard states that they had been hung for fighting against the Wehrmacht. Such special killings would have been done early on by SS death squads or Army soldiers under SS orders; later on all Jews would be rounded up in occupied areas and shipped to factory-like Polish death camps or killed in filthy rathole lagers like the one in Riga, Latvia. One of the men still displays the Nazi view of Russians in interview; he claims that they were "closer to nature" and "understood the land", and like American hawks discussing the Vietnam war, tells the interviewer that they could have won the war with more men. This claim is rediculous because most of Germany's military strength was in the East (mirrored in Vietnam); the truth is the Germans treated the Soviet citizenry as low-grade trash only fit for slave labor or whores, so it is no wonder that partisan bands sprung up to fight the Nazi invader. (Partisans came in three stripes: pro-Nazi goon squads supported by the Heer and Waffen-SS; true Russian/Ukrainian/Belorussian patriots shot at by everybody; and pro-Soviets supported by Stalin.) The Luftwaffe man discusses how his squadron of twin engined Junker 88 bombers suffered great losses; the troops talk about how they shot down an Russian plane that was strafing them. What I wished the film-makers had done was to contact surviving members of the SS army to see if any had filmed their exploits, atrocities, etc. It would have made a good grim counterbalance to the cognitive dissonance of the interviewees, who won't say if they shot unarmed partisans, or even take on any guilt for their part in the regular war. All of them seem slightly defensive. On a final note I liked the 1945 footage, wherein everybody in uniform filmed looked like the Russian prisoners captured in 1941: grimy, lined faces ringed with a week's stubble and that thousand yard stare of a veteran.
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Shocking Evidence of Occupation and German Attitudes
tjlisson6 August 2007
I agree with most of what Zardoz12 has to write, except that those were not "Polish death camps;" those were German Nazi death camps located in Poland, which makes all the difference in the world. As the Poles had the same Slavic "untermenschen" status as the Russsians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians, they were treated and suffered comparatively. And one should understand (as not many non-Slavs do these days) that all these peoples were going to be exterminated by the Nazi regime sooner or later. Most were slated to be slowly worked and starved to death doing slave labor for the Reich and its settlers. Remember the "Drang Osten" and "Lebensraum?" That's what it was all about.

There were two things that horrified me the most. First of all, the way the Germans seemed to have coaxed civilian women into burying other civilians and Soviet soldiers by crudely dumping their compatriots into mass graves. They seem to be doing so rather dutifully and stoically, which makes one wonder whether they were actually collaborators, or just doing so out of concerns for sanitation. There were in fact collaborators, but one must remember that after the horrors that Stalin perpetrated on the population in the 1930's, many people were desperate to escape him. Furthermore, it is well known that the very hungry peasants often did what they thought they had to do to survive. Add to that the fact that undoubtedly many people there — and especially the poorly educated and impoverished rural majority — did not really understand what the Nazis had in store for them, and it's not so simple as it may seem to us now.

The second thing is when you see that long line of captured and injured people and one of the German soldiers — obviously extremely nervous about this — says that, unfortunately, the manual doesn't say what to do when you have (I think it was approximately) 90,000 captives on hand. Hmmm…now, what do you think happened to them?
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