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Superbly made if controversial series about the Eastern front.
on 12 November 2014
Any attempt to represent the Russian front impartially is almost certainly going to alienate one or other of the various participants' descendants. And so it is with this production, which does have its fair share of controversy! It tells the fictional story of 5 twenty something friends, all of whom are native Berliners, as they each in their own way prepare to deal with the looming crisis of the drive to gain Hitler's `Lebensraum'. The need for this `living space' was outlined in the infamous Mein Kampf dictated to his lackey, Hess, when both were languishing in Bavaria's Landsberg Prison following the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1924.
Two of the friends are brothers, the eldest, Wilhelm (Volker Bruch), who is a junior army officer, and his pacifist brother, Friedhelm (Tom Schilling), a private in the army, are shortly off to participate in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, which begins on June 22nd 1941. Two are girls, Charlotte (Miriam Stein), who is in love with Wilhelm, and Greta (Katharina Schuttler), an opportunistic, somewhat cynical would be singer, working as barmaid. The final member of this group is Viktor (Ludwig Trepte), who is Jewish and therefore, perhaps, the most unlikely. Some critics were left `open-mouthed' at the improbability of any twenty-something Germans, having had nine years of Nazi indoctrination, enjoying friendly relations with a Jew. However, Viktor and Greta's relationship is a little more than friendly and in the opening scene during which the group assembles in the bar for the last time before they all have to go their own way, Greta establishes a fateful relationship with an SS officer who interrupts their party, in order to save Viktor from discovery.
Other critics have poured scorn on the production for seemingly ignoring any aspect of the holocaust, for depicting ordinary Germans as victims of Nazism rather than more than willing participants and portraying Polish partisans as rabid anti-Semites. Nonetheless, the series is brilliantly acted and does succeed in illustrating certain aspects of Hitler's `War of Annihilation' on the Russians. Aside from a minority of fanatics, there can be few in the modern world who aren't aware of the wide-scale committing of atrocities by both the Nazis and the Russians and the criticisms of this production are certainly well-founded. However, it still represents a welcome addition to other similar series such as, 'Holocaust' and `Band of Brothers' also, with some justification, not without their critics, which serve to educate succeeding generations about the hell of war, the barbarism of Stalin and the satanic nature of Nazi Germany.