WWII miniseries touches nerve among Germans, Poles

(FILES) Picture taken on July 14, 2011 German actors Volker Bruch (L) and Tom Schilling posing for photographers on set of the television miniseries "Our Mothers, Our Fathers" in Halle/Saale, eastern Germany. AFP PHOTO / JENS WOLF GERMANY OUT

BERLIN: A television miniseries brought World War II horrors back to German living rooms this month and provoked a furious reaction from Poland, which accused it of playing down Nazi guilt.

The 14-million-euro ($18-million) production "Our Mothers, Our Fathers", shown in three parts on public broadcaster ZDF, tells the story of five Germans in a story spanning the Nazis' declaration of war on the Soviet Union in 1941 to their ultimate defeat in 1945.

Two are sent as fighters and another as a nurse to the eastern front while two others including a Jew destined for deportation by the Nazis initially remain in Berlin.

"The war will reveal what is worst in us," Friedhelm, one of the soldiers, predicts.

In their Wehrmacht uniforms, the young men quickly become witnesses to SS atrocities committed in the occupied territories and eventually become implicated themselves.

One of the men is seen summarily executing a Russian POW on his superiors' orders.

The drama owes a debt to the US series "Band of Brothers" in its storytelling.

But it portrays the era through the eyes of a German generation of perpetrators for the edification and entertainment of children and grandchildren, many of whom are still in the dark about what their elders did during the war.

More than 7.2 million Germans watched the first two parts of the prime-time programme, with 8.7 million tuning in for the finale -- on a par with the ratings for the country's favourite weekly crime show, "Tatort".

ZDF said it aimed to show the war in a new light in order to "foster dialogue between the generations".

"If we can bridge this void of silence that exists in many families on the subject of World War II, then this film is a television event in the truest sense," the broadcaster's entertainment programming director, Heike Hempel, told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau.

The show, however, touched a nerve in neighbouring Poland, with Warsaw's ambassador to Berlin, Jerzy Marganski, writing to ZDF this week to complain that his country's resistance fighters and average citizens were portrayed as rabid anti-Semites "hardly distinguishable from the German Nazis".

"The almost grotesque way in which the series presents the Home Army can create the impression that the guilt for the extermination of the Jews can be shared, that it must also be borne by other peoples," he wrote.

"Such an understanding of the history of the 20th century would certainly not be helpful to the German-Polish historical dialogue."

ZDF promptly expressed "deep regret" that the series had caused offence in Poland but dismissed the accusation that it was distorting history.

"In no way was the aim to relativise the historical facts or the Germans' responsibility," ZDF spokesman Peter Hill said.

Experts gave the miniseries mixed reviews.

Martin Luecke of Berlin's Free University said that the often melodramatic scenes carried the risk of viewers "identifying with the characters and looking for excuses for their crimes in the context".

Political scientist Johannes Tuchel, who heads the German Resistance Memorial Centre, told Berlin's daily Morgenpost it was "in principle always a good thing to show that the Second World War was a war of aggression launched by the Germans".

But he said it was too soon to tell whether the film would launch a real debate in Germany along the lines of the groundbreaking 1978 miniseries "Holocaust" starring Meryl Streep and James Woods which opened many Germans' eyes for the first time to the enormity of the Nazis' crimes.





Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

Alert: If you are facing problems with posting comments, please note that you must verify your email with Disqus prior to posting a comment. follow this link to make sure your account meets the requirements. (

comments powered by Disqus



Interested in knowing more about this story?

Click here