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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This documentary from the History Channel is presented in five parts.
1. The approaching war and the emotions it generated, sometimes doubtful, more often an elation among the youngsters who like those snazzy uniforms and had no idea what they were getting into.
2. Reversal in Russia, when the foul facts began to be realized and both the officers and men wondered whether it was really true that the good guys always won.
3. Crimes and Genocide, some crimes being minor ones like murdering someone you don't like, while others are more nettlesome, like the attempt to exterminate entire populations based on their religion, politics, or sexual practices.
4. Resistance, meaning resistance within the ranks or, "How do you slow down a juggernaut that is trundling towards a cliff?" Nothing of Sophie Scholl; this is strictly from inside the Army.
5. The Bitter End, in which some Junker Field Marshals (like Model) commit altruistic suicide, like good soldiers, rather than surrender, while others take more active steps to end the war or get out from under. And the war does finally end. (PS: Kids, we won.)
There is some interesting and new color footage of the Wehrmacht at work. There is none of the now-familiar footage from the concentration camps of pale, bony corpses being shoveled into mass graves, thank God. The film, by the way, deals almost exclusively with its eponymous subject -- the Wehrmacht or German Army. The regular Army had less to do with the more heinous acts, mostly providing guards. They were chiefly combat oriented. The SS and Gestapo were separate entities. Most of the time, we watch and listen to talking heads, sometimes participants and sometimes young historians, all of whom are pretty convincing.
Of some 150 German generals, about 46 wound up in relatively luxurious surroundings that served as a prison camp in England. The British had put them all together in order that they relax and speak to each other openly -- while their conversations were recorded secretly. (Reenactors reconstruct some of the exchanges.) Several ordinary soldiers and officers are shown in modern interviews.
The overall impression is one of attitudinal diversity. Among the generals, in particular, we're aware of an insoluble conflict between their duty as soldiers and their consciences as human beings. But we don't hear much philosophizing about ethics. It's not the sort of thing the authoritarian mind enjoys dwelling on. The usual response is to try to suppress any acknowledgment that you were part of an evil machine. "Suppress" is a fancy word for "forget." There is the expectable praise for the courage of the German soldiers, and an occasional remark like, "The killing of dissident men, well, that might have been necessary, but to do it IN PUBLIC and later to kill the women and children, that was going too far!"
The men are far more blunt about it all, at least the ones who agreed to be interviewed for this project. They may have enjoyed marching through Czechoslovakia but as the pace of civilian deaths picked up and ordinary soldiers began to witness systematic exterminations, they thought it was disgusting. Every game is fun when you're winning. It's only when you lose that the experience becomes a little irritating.
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