In 1942, Friedrich Weimer's boxing skills get him an appointment to a National Political Academy (NaPolA) - high schools that produce Nazi elite. Over his father's objections, Friedrich ... See full summary »
This tragicomedy is a self-ironic portrait of a young man who drops out of university and ends up wandering the streets of the city he lives: Berlin. The film deals with the desire to ... See full summary »
Jan Ole Gerster
Justus von Dohnányi
Berlin, 1941. Five friends eager to become heroes in an adventure that will change the face of Europe - and that will forever change them as well. Level-headed, highly decorated officer Wilhelm is off to the eastern front with his younger brother Friedhelm, a sensitive dreamer more interested in literature than warfare. Deeply in love with Wilhelm is Charlotte, a young nurse who looks forward to serving in the Wehrmacht, also on the eastern front. While Greta is a talented singer who longs to become another Marlene Dietrich, her Jewish boyfriend Viktor still cannot convince his parents to leave Germany... Valor and courage come to the fore, but also betrayal - of values, beliefs, humanity. Friedhelm turns into a soulless killing machine... Wilhelm deserts his troops and is court-martialed... Charlotte's Nazi ideology crumbles when she betrays a Jewish nurse helping the German army... Greta obtains papers for Viktor's escape by selling herself to an SS colonel. They and millions of ... Written by
I have watched the series several times now, and I still find it pretty engrossing. It was made by German filmmakers for a German audience, ostensibly to nudge the fast passing away generation of eyewitnesses and veterans and the generations of their children and grandchildren to use the last chance time will give them to break the wall of silence and talk about their wartime experiences. The series has a whole lot on it's platter, arguably more than enough to cover in a meaningful way in 4.5 hours: the enthusiasm of youngsters for Hitler's war; the obvious persecution of Jews and the developing genocide in the East; the nature of the Nazi regime, the unprecedented savagery of the war, the commissar order, taking casualties from partisan ambushes, savage counter insurgency warfare, the dehumanization of the populations of the conquered territories at the hands of the Germans, plans of colonization and ethnic cleansing, battle trauma, the disillusionment of the soldiers, what it was like to fight a losing total war, denunciation, finally the savagery of the soviet troops. In the end, everything is in ruins, countless are dead and the survivors emerge as deeply scarred personalities, each of them having to live with personal guilt and the ghosts of the past.
Granted, the numerous chance encounters of the lead characters may be unlikely but they are an acceptable plot device. What can't be seriously disputed is that the mini-series takes great pains to put the audience in the shoes of the five young Berliners on their journey through the madness of total ideological war. The dominant question looming in the background is not so much the well known question, asked in the comfortable situation of a stable post-war order How could you be such a criminal tool of Hitler's genocidal war?" but rather Damn, what would I have done in their position and where do I take the smug conviction from that I would have done so much better?". The overall approach is not a conversation stopper between the generations but an outstretched hand, not a tone of indictment and condemnation but one of empathy.
I came across two major groups of audiences who got all worked-up and downright mad about the show: German internet-Nazis and patriotic Poles. The former were foaming at the mouth about just another installment of guilt-worship and defilement of the supposedly heroic and noble German soldier of WWII (and the millions of German civilians who got killed, raped and expelled from their homelands). The latter were upset that a German show about WWII in the east doesn't center on the suffering of Poles at the hands of Germans and even portrays Polish civilians and partisans as ardent antisemites.
Both camps, even the internet Nazis, have some points, I believe. When Friedhelm says in the first part that the Russians are learning from us" about atrocities, it's a fair objection to point out that Stalin's mass-murdering terror regime in fact didn't need any lessons from the German invaders about committing atrocities, be it politically motivated mass-murder, genocide by famine, ethnic cleansing, etc. At the time the film starts, Stalin and his countless henchmen still had much more blood on their hands than the Nazis and their helpers which was going to change, however For a good account on this, read Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands).
By the way, a legal fact which is apparently too unpopular nowadays to be mentioned ever is that customary international war at the time of WWII allowed quite far-reaching reprisal actions of occupying forces when attacked by irregular forces. Even the US Army field manual of 1940 deals in detail with the accepted practice of hostage shooting and the burning of villages as reprisals Collective punishment had been commonplace in the soviet union since the revolution, and the British applied collective punishment in their colonial rearguard fights even throughout the 1950s. (Sadly, that list is far from complete: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_punishment )That doesn't undo German atrocities but it's not helpful either to view those completely out of historical context.
Polish criticims, as mirrored in several reviews here, centers on the fact that the show depicts the war against the Soviet Union and therefore leaves the Polish campaign of '39 and the subsequent German occupation of Poland largely out of the picture. What makes countless Poles then totally snap is the double dip of being once again portrayed as antisemites (remember the bitter reactions in Poland to a brief scene in Spielberg's Schindler's List or to the favorable reception in the US of books by the Polish-born author Jan Gross) and then, of all people, by Germans. While I believe that the subject of antisemitism among Poles could have been portrayed in a more balanced fashion, especially by blaming someone else than the AK who evidently helped Jews and even supplied weapons for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, I think it's time people in Poland start to accept that todays's Germans have a right as anyone else on the planet to include Polish antisemitism in their renderings of history. As for brave Polish resistance to the Nazis not having gotten more screen time, it's the decision of the makers of the show what their story focuses on. I was also disappointed when AMC's Hell on Wheels reduced Plains Indians to mere plot devices but I guess that I just have to live with it that Hell on Wheels is about people building a transcontinental railway and not about the plight of the ethnically cleansed Indians. Same applies here.
Summing up, if you have seen enough comic-book Nazi villains on screen and are curious about the German experience in WWII, this mini-series is a pretty well-made, honest and quite engrossing attempt.
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