Documentary film history of the Nazi-Soviet conflict in world War II.

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Series cast summary:
...  Himself - Host and Narrator 3 episodes, 1978


Sprawling, 20-part documentary history in film of the World War II conflict between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Companion book, The Unknown War, written by NYT reporter Harrison Salisbury. Each episode is about 52 minutes, similar in format to The World at War. The footage was edited from over 3.5 million feet of film taken by Soviet camera crews from the first day of the war, 22 June 1941, to the soviet entry in Berlin in May 1945. Most of these films have never been seen outside this documentary series. Narrated by Burt Lancaster. Chapters: 1. June 22, 1941; 2. The Battle for Moscow; 3. The Siege of Leningrad; 4. To the East; 5. The Defense of Stalingrad; 6. Survival at Stalingrad; 7. The World's Greatest Tank Battle-Kursk; 8. War in the Arctic; 9. War in the Air; 10. Partisans: The Guerilla War; 11. Battle of the Seas; 12. Battle of the Caucasus; 13. Liberation of Ukraine; 14. Liberation of Byelorussia; 15. From the Balkans to Vienna; 16. The Liberation of Poland; 17. The ... Written by Eric Novotny

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Release Date:

22 June 1978 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tuntematon sota  »

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Produced with Soviet cooperation after the release of The World at War, which the soviet government felt paid insufficient attention to their part in World War II. Released in 1978, The Unknown War, sympathetic to the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany, was quickly withdrawn from TV airings after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. See more »

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Great Archival Film Long Unseen - but propaganda to put it mildly
8 September 2006 | by See all my reviews

I have to give this series, broadcast in 1978, an "8" - almost a "9" because of it's remarkable televising of long unseen Russian newsreel and movie photography of the war effort on the Eastern Front from 1941 through 1945. In a sense the release of this material in 1978 was a kind of harbinger of the release of long secret Russian historical records and archives in the "Glastnost" period, until even today. The most notable effect of this tendency was the cooperation of the post 1985 governments to assist in finding and restoring the family remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his slaughtered wife Alexandra, and their children, to the Romanoff Family for proper burial. There are other examples, such as tracing the fates of millions of Stalin's purge victims. But the first feeble attempt at this was the photography released for this series on the Russian sacrifice (20 million dead!) in the Second World War.

But the film was released at a heavy price: The Russian Government of Leonid Brezhnev insisted that they control the narrative. Now, while nobody in their right minds would deny the terrible losses and trauma Russians and other Soviet Peoples suffered at the hands of the Nazis (example on a "small level, shown in the series: the destruction of the home of the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikoswki by Nazi goons and the burning of original musical manuscripts to show their contempt for Slavic culture), the narrative went to the extent of almost denying the losses of Britain and Commonwealth, China (Communist and Kuomintang), the United States, France, and others (Jews, for example), as being on a large level too. The result was, at the least, annoying. In the opening episode the Western Viewer was told by the narrator (Burt Lancaster, managing to give a good accounting of his delivery - even when speaking the worst nonsense) that the so called "Winter War" of 1939 - 1944 between Finland under Marshall Mannerheim and Stalin's Russia was due to Finnish aggression.

I don't think I ever heard before about this theory of "Greater Finland" or the hitherto under-discussed "Finnish Baltic Supremacy Theory" that shook up the globe. Somehow it escaped most of us.

To be fair Mannerheim did get aid from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but he was not a puppet of the former (say like Vidkun Quistling of Norway) nor a collaborator like Pierre Laval of France. In fact, Mannerheim threatened to make peace with Stalin, and even join forces with Russia against Germany, if any attempt was made to deport Finland's small Jewish population.

It is instructive that in the general "clensing" of neo-Nazi stooges in Europe following 1945, like Franco in Spain, Mannerheim was not bothered. But unlike Franco Mannerheim was honored as a great hero - even getting on an American postage stamp in the 1960s.

Similar twisting of history distort the good of the series. Little is said of such off stage incidents as the blitz or the later V2 campaign against London. While aerial warfare is given good treatment (particularly showing the loosening of sexual role playing in the war - like America's "Rosie the Riveter", Russia's women played an active role in the war machine, even as pilots of the Russian air force), the Russian's willingness to sacrifice anything for victory is underplayed. Stalin is not shown as the monster he was - his Nonaggression Pact with Hitler is barely touched on. Nothing is said of the Gulags or the Purges, except to extol certain public works projects that were valuable (that we now know were built by slave laborers from the Gulags.

The series was not fully shown. Russia invaded Afghanistan, and the U.S. public lost interest. It has not been brought back with a fixed narrative, but it probably could be now. Russia did sacrifice on an unprecedented scale. But the story of that hard, terribly hard and bloody victory of the Russian People still needs to be told without propagandistic lies for the West and the rest of the World to know of, and appreciate. Those lies prevent this from being a "10".

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