I finally got a chance to watch the German TV production Generation War – Unsere Mütter – Unsere Väter. It’s a Mini-Series in three parts, each 1.5hrs long.
Berlin 1941. Five friends are having a goodbye party. Two of them, the brothers Wilhelm and Friedhelm, are going to the Eastern Front. Wilhelm, the older of the two, has been there before while Friedhelm is just joining up. Charlotte, called Charlie, will follow the troops to the East as a nurse. Greta and Viktor will stay in Berlin. Greta is an aspiring singer, Viktor, her boyfriend, is a Jew. The party is broken up by German soldiers. Somoen reported that the friends were listening to Jazz music, which is strictly forbidden, and they are said to have a Jew among the. They manage to get rid of the solidres but Greta, whose place it is, will be interrogated in the next days.
From that evening on the five friends split but will meet again several times over the next four years. This split allows the movie to tell the story of WWII from different points of view. First we have the scenes set on the Russian front. We see how the brothers change rapidly, becoming colder and more alienated, the longer the fighting goes on. Charlotte covers the point of view of the nurses on the Eastern Front. Greta will become the mistress of an SS officer, hoping to help Viktor get out of Germany. The officer will also help her to become a star. The officer however has no intention to help Viktor. He has him arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Viktor manges to flee with a Polish girl. Together they escape and join the Polish resistance.
After the war, those of the friends who have survived, meet again in Berlin and drink a toast to those who died.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this series, I liked it but there were elements I found weird, and so I went and looked at a few reviews and was surprised how different the reactions were. The German viewers were cautious, some loved it, some hated it. The rest of the world seems divided. Polish viewers are offended and outraged, viewers from most other countries (Netherlands, New Zealand, UK, US . . . ) love it. The critics are divided as well. What happened?
I personally really liked the scenes set on the Eastern Front. They are the best and I found the portrayal of the two brothers and the situations they encountered believable. These scenes are almost as good as Stalingrad or Enemy at the Gates. The scenes with the nurse Charlie complement this part but are problematic. There is something that Charlie does, which has repercussions, that I didn’t find believable.
The stories of Greta and Viktor didn’t work. Greta’s story is quite clichéd. The young starlet who is promoted to stardom by an SS officer . . . The story of Viktor who survives the war joining the Polish resistance is the most problematic part and the one that really offended people. The Polish Resistance is shown as brutal savages who do not care about the fate of the Jews and who would kill Viktor if they knew that he is Jewish. I don’t know enough about the Polish Resistance but I agree, it’s a very negative depiction.
What the movie wanted to achieve is to show how normal German people got dragged into the war. Friedhelm, the younger of the two brothers, is by far the most interesting character. He hates the war, he is no Nazi, but he is changed profoundly.
So, these are the problems. Now, did I like it? Considering that it’s a 4.5hrs production and that I watched it almost in one go, without noticing the time go by, I’d say, yes, despite of my reservations, I did like it a lot because it’s extremely well done. The battle scenes look realistic, the actors are above average and the story is suspenseful and interesting.
I’d say it’s highly watchable and for those interested in the Russian front it is even a must-see, just bear in mind that it has problematic elements. It’s a good thing in any case that it led to intense discussions in Germany.
Some German critics praised the series.   The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University explained the series tried to show how Germans were lured into Hitler’s war and judged it would “not filter the Nazi atrocities”.  The Daily Telegraphwrote Generation War explored “the seductive aspect of Nazism”.  The Irish Times stated the series was suitable to make its spectators more sensitive for the complexity of Germany’s darkest era.  The Hollywood Reporter compared the series to Band of Brothers. In Poland many people got upset and accused the screenwriters of slandering the Polish anti-Nazi underground army of Armia Krajowa.   Polish ambassador Jerzy Marganski sent a letter of complaint to German broadcaster ZDF. The broadcaster quickly provided amendments.  Polish ambassador to the USA Ryszard Schnepf sent a written complaint to Music Box, who bought the rights to the series. When aired in Poland it scored record ratings. A Polish internet project Your Mothers your Fathers criticizing the series has been started . It was also broadcast inSweden where Generation War was one of the most-watched non-English-language international TV programs of all time. Sue Deeks, the BBC’s head of programme acquisition, recognised the “a truly epic sweep and emotionally compelling narrative” of this series.