Germans and the War

Britain and the States  have been making movies about the Second World War for decades; they were used for propaganda and morale boosting, and bookshops still have shelves groaning beneath the books still in print. The Germans themselves have been wary of this, but when they do it, they do it well. Heimat is a real classic of cinema, both for its quality and length, likewise, Das Boot, a truly visceral experience, and the much satirised tour de force of Downfall. The recent 3 part German tv series, Generation War followed 5 friends: a solder and his student brother, Charlie who is in love with the soldier and becomes a nurse, Clara who plans to be the new Dietrich, and, controversially, her boyfriend, a Jewish tailor.

I missed the first episode, but thought it was wonderful. Characters well drawn, and with a good dose of the surreal. The two brothers attempt to take a telegraph station from the Russians, hopelessly outgunned. The elder is left for dead with shell shock. He climbs into a bombed tank and realises he is not alone. A badly burned soldier is sitting beside him, and asks for water. Clara hopes her Gestapo lover will make her famous, but when she returns from the front she sees the war is over, and is arrested for saying so. The Jewish boyfriend escapes from a train with a Polish woman, and joins the resistance for a time, we see debates on the price locals pay for supporting the resistance, but the response is they will all die anyway.

The battle scenes are as good as you will find anywhere, and the characters are well drawn and acted, as was the sense of futility and of being trapped as it became clear that the war was over and they should all have been sent home. One of them, as punishment, was sent to set fire to a farmhouse, even though he knew it would draw Russian fire. The elderly couple were stunned by his arrival, but invited him to have tea. A lovely set piece, more likely they would have been terrified by him, but who knows? I have never been in a war zone, and neither, I suspect, have any of the critics. There was also the incident where Clara the singer’s Gestapo lover is about to kill himself and family, but changes his mind; he is later employed by the allies. We know this happened, but are mostly only mention the high profile suicides, not the hypocrisy of the post war reconstruction when many Nazis fled or were used by the victors.

There was a tv debate on this series in which the producer struggled to defend the story, with special focus on how 4 young Nazi indoctrinated young Germans could befriend a Jew by 1941, and this is a fair enough point. If this had been a documentary it would have been a good one. But this is fiction, but as the producer said, some Germans continued to have Jewish friends. There were well publicised attempts on Hitler’s life, they were not all robotically following the Nazi line. Yes, there were times when I struggled to suspend my disbelief, but overall, it was great tv, and good to see the Germans finally having to stop apologising for events that happened long before most of them were born, and mine it, as do most other nations, for the drama, the tragedy, bravery and the madness that it involved .

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