Generation War – Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter (2013) German TV Mini-Series

Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter

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.

Here’s what I found on Wikipedia

Generation_War

Some German critics praised the series. [11] [3] 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”. [12] The Daily Telegraphwrote Generation War explored “the seductive aspect of Nazism”. [13] The Irish Times stated the series was suitable to make its spectators more sensitive for the complexity of Germany’s darkest era. [14] The Hollywood Reporter compared the series to Band of Brothers.[15] In Poland many people got upset and accused the screenwriters of slandering the Polish anti-Nazi underground army of Armia Krajowa.[16] [3] [17] Polish ambassador Jerzy Marganski sent a letter of complaint to German broadcaster ZDF.[18] The broadcaster quickly provided amendments.[1][19] [3] Polish ambassador to the USA Ryszard Schnepf sent a written complaint to Music Box, who bought the rights to the series.[20] When aired in Poland it scored record ratings. A Polish internet project Your Mothers your Fathers criticizing the series has been started [21]. It was also broadcast inSweden where Generation War was one of the most-watched non-English-language international TV programs of all time.[22] Sue Deeks, the BBC’s head of programme acquisition, recognised the “a truly epic sweep and emotionally compelling narrative” of this series.[23][24]

36 thoughts on “Generation War – Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter (2013) German TV Mini-Series

  1. bulletskill says:

    Thank you for the review. This is a series I would really like to see and have been looking for on Amazon UK, but so far with no success. It may be available on Amazon DE but I’m not sure if it would have subtitles from there?

    I’ve seen various clips on YouTube and they’ve certainly been very impressive. I suppose it’s an indication of the divisiveness that still exists over the war that this series still engenders much debate, with some loving it and others hating it. It seems you fall into the previous and would recommend it.

    It’s easy for people to be so critical, but at the end of the day it’s never going to satisfy everyone. The very nature of the story and the times it was set in make this almost certain. But it does look well acted and, on the whole, mostly believable.

    Thank you once again.

    • My pleasure. Yes, I would recommend it. I think they tried to tell another story and, with the exception of Greta’s story, it was another angle and I liked that a lot.
      I’m not Polish therefore I wasn’t offended by the negative depiction and I’m pretty sure that there were anti-Semites among the Poles as well. The movie doesn’t say at any time that all the Poles were against the Jews.
      There were even Jews working against their own. It’s the nature of this war. It had a few psychlogical inconsistencies but overall I’d say it’s well wort watching, especially the Easter front scenes are well done, Wilhelm’s and Friedhelm’s development seemed realistic.
      I have the German DVD and it doesn’t have English subtitles but one of the amazon reviewers mentions a US release. Maybe it is on Netflix? You can get that in the UK as well, I believe.

  2. nem baj says:

    Glad you eventually watched it.

    I think one of the main problems of these ‘generational’ mini-series (for I’ll include BoB & The Pacific along with UMUV) is their psychological anachronism.

    They try so hard to make their lead characters familiar to contemporary audiences that they completely wash away the spirit of the times, as if mentalities had no history. As a consequence, most of the dilemmas they’re facing appear artificial, as it seems History has already provided answers.

    I watched Veit Harlan’s Kolberg last week. It’s hardcore propaganda of course, and was never really released, but it raises much more questions than UMUV about how people could think at the time.

    • That’s very true. I think it’s one of the main issues some people have with historical novels. They pretend being about a certain time and get a lot of the detias right but never the mindset. If they do they are accused.
      Interesting. I’ll have to have a look at Kolberg. I have not seen it.
      Unser Mütter . . . has shortcomings, but I appreciated it anyway.

      • nem baj says:

        It’s not all bad, indeed. Your piece prompted me to get a quick overview of the German press about the series. As it happens, I mostly agree with the TagesZeitung review, including on the strong points they list in the first part. Damn Berlin Pinkos! 🙂

        http://www.taz.de/!113239/

        PS: and I agree with you that movies who try to explore the mindset of past eras, especially this one, often expose their authors to unfair criticism, as they’re accused of connivance.

      • Thanks for the link. I wanted to read some more articles before posting but the I noticed how long this blog has been sleeping.
        I’ll do it now.

  3. Guy Savage says:

    I just bought Kolberg.

    Sounds like this is worth watching if I can track down a copy. I agree–the multi-generational programmes are problematic–hit & miss.

    I read a fantastic book about the polish uprising if interested. (written by someone who was jewish)

  4. nem baj says:

    Should you be intrigued after watching Kolberg and since the subject is mothers & fathers, there’s a very interesting 2008 documentary featuring the director’s descendants: Harlan – In the Shadow of Jew Süss.

    It’s in the line of Hitler’s Children, though better in my opinion because bearing the name of the (unrepenting and unconvicted) 3rd Reich star filmmaker had a much subtler range of effects than in the case of top NS-criminals’ families.

    PS: that Veit Harlan’s niece married Stanley Kubrick (she played the singer at the end of Paths of Glory) is a well-known anecdote. She makes several appearances in the documentary.

  5. the war movie buff says:

    Sorry, can’t get it. Sounds good.

    • Yes, I’m sure you’d find it interesting, even good.
      It is available with English subtitles online. I saw some sources, just have no clue how it works.

      • Nick T. says:

        Where online? I was able to get the first episode, or part, but it wasn’t of good quality, and buffered frequently which was very annoying. I haven’t been able to find the other two, and it’s bothering me. Where did you go to view this series online? Please leave the link, thanks

      • Have you tried this?

        It looks pretty good. the other parts are available as well.

      • Nick T. says:

        Yeah I did, and it worked, but I didn’t get translations. Like it said “Generation War: Subbed”, which I would assume means subtitles, but when the video played, I got no subtitles. Maybe this is just me, and I have to turn them on manually? If not, then I don’t know where to go.

      • I did get subtitles. I checked twice to make sure I didn’t add something without.
        Maybe you really have to turn on something manually.

      • Nick T. says:

        Alright I’ll check

      • Nick T. says:

        Ok I’m getting subtitles. Can you, perhaps, post the other two episodes here? Because dailymotion is blocked on my school computer, but when you posted the episode here, it worked. If you can do that, that’d be awesome. If not, thanks anyway

      • Caroline says:

        Sure, no problem but there are more parts (the episodes have been divided)

        Part 1 – 2

        Part 2 – 1

        Part 2 -2

        Part 3 – 1

        Part 3 – 2

      • Nick T. says:

        Wow thanks so much Caroline! This is great!

    • nem baj says:

      The rights have been bought for the US. No release announced yet, but it shouldn’t take long. It’s been aired in France already, and is bound to this fall in the UK.

  6. Casey says:

    Just finished watching this. There so little to watch on this subject I can’t say I won’t watch it again but its is very problematic as you say. It looks beautiful but they really try to squeeze to much into it. Much of what they squeeze in could be from a soap opera. In a movie like Star Wars I can deal with that but the meat grinder that was the Russian front is no the time and place.
    Another issue I have and seem to have with German movies is the rhythm of the whole thing just feels clunky to me. Its really hard to describe.
    For those having trouble getting a hold of this in english. There are fan made SRT (subtitles) files free for download out there if one is inclined. It’s easy watch on a computer with a program like VLC. Just a bit harder to make a hard copy for TV with them but not that hard. It is how I have watched most foreign films that I cannot get any other way.

    • I guess they wanted to show as many different aspects as possible or it would have been too close to Stalingrad.
      It didn’t feel clunky to me. Not sure what you mean or where.
      I just saw that it will even be shown in cinemas in the US.
      I know I’ll watch it again despite the problematic aspects.

  7. nem baj says:

    Have any of you read Neitzel and Welzer’s Soldaten? It’s been translated in English and French.

  8. I found this series very interesting for multiple reasons. First of all it’s very refreshing and interesting to see the German side of the war. Most of the movies depict the American or the allied side. That it only took part at the eastern front isn’t illogical because 85% of the German soldiers died at that front and not in the west or the south (Italy and Africa). It also shows that antisemitism was widespread in Europe and not something that only existed in Germany and that a lot of eastern-European peoples assisted the Germans (in many ways off course, being in the SS is the worst of many possible ways to collaborate). What a lot of Poles (who act like they’ve been stung by a bee) don’t seem to get is that these series is NOT about Poles. It’s about how average Germans underwent the war, why they did what they did and most of them (those who survived at least) didn’t talk about it for decades. Yes, it shows that there were antisemitic partisans, but that’s a fact that also polish historians don’t deny. Nobody claims that all Polish partisans/Poles were antisemitic or that they build the concentration camps. In my opinion the series was very well made, from a unique point of view, the uniforms and locations were very good and accurate despite some minor flaws (MG42 in 1941?) and all of the actors did a really good job. Especially the role of Friedhelm and the evolution his character went through was superbly done. Although it’s a German production, it avoids no topics. We see German protagonists shooting prisoners of war, shooting and hanging innocent civilians (even children), burning houses, hunting people through a minefield,.. It’s idiotic to say they ‘whitewash’ history. What IS shown is, that under given circumstances, ordinary people do terrible, terrible things. People and life are not black-white. What would you have done?

    • I’m certainly glad that I don’t have to make this decision. As much as I hope I would have left the country . . . I’m not sure at all. And therefore, yes, i agree, it shows the average German very well and obviously there were anti-Semites all over the wordl, long before then and still now. It’s also obvious that there must have been anti-Jewish resistance groups in Poland but not all of them, still, it’s always problematic when you choose and angle like this.
      I appreciated Friedhelm’s story the most. It made a lot of sense.
      I also thought it was unfar to say te movie was not very anti-German, it showed the worst, and just because they included anti-Semitic Poles doesn’t mean they showed the Germans were better.
      Your comment landed in the spam folder btw.

  9. Howard says:

    I have the German BLURAY I sat through the entire thing without
    subtitles. I will buy the R1 DVD when it comes out in the US from MUSIC BOX it will not be released in UK on DVD or BD until AFTER BBC2 has shown it this Winter.

    Yes the content could have been stronger and it has its issues but it is a TV miniseries and over all it is very good. I would suggest getting the American R1 DVD of the movie A WOMAN IN BERLIN this theatrical film has more grit.

      • Howard says:

        I would also like to take this chance to encourage people to buy this wonderful movie about the life of Hildegard Knef….the first Act is set
        during WWII so at least it qualifies for your site in part. Sadly the stunning quality German BD has no English subtitles but this wonderful quality Hong Kong issued R3 NTSC DVD is superb…

        http://www.yesasia.com/us/hilde-dvd-hong-kong-version/1023698327-0-0-0-en/info.html

        Shame like many movies I buy from other countries it got no real international release. I have liked actress Heike Makatsch since the 90’s.
        It is the role of her career.

      • I’m very fond of Heike Makatsch as well, and have been meaning to watch this for a while. Thanks for reminding me. I don’t tend to apply the concept “war movie” in a restricted way, so it might qualify.
        How weird that there is a Hong Kong but not UK or Us version.

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