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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Generation War and Heimat

I watched the last episode of Generation War last night and have been thinking about it ever since. It's good that the Germans have finally produced something like this*. I remember summer holidays spent with my German exchange friend and her brothers and sisters and their frustration with the wall of silence over the subject of WW2 and Germany. That was the late seventies and early eighties. Lots of terribly wounded men could still be seen going about their lives. Buses, trams and trains had signs reminding you that war wounded had priority seating rights.

There were some things about Generation War I didn't think quite worked (too much coincidence: Poland, the Ukraine and Russia are huge areas, yet the friends seemed to bump into one another, often almost literallly). I wasn't sure a Jewish friend would be so openly partying with four Aryan friends in 1941. And I thought that Wilhelm probably knew more than he let on about what was going on in Poland at the beginning of the series as he'd already served out there.

But the series gave me characters I cared about, even when they did things that appalled me (Charly informing on the Jewish doctor, Friedhelm shooting the little Jewish boy). They made me ask myself what I would have done in the same situations. Would I have been brave enough to have ignored the Jewish ancestry of my colleague? To have flat-out refused to shoot a child, even if I knew the immediate response would have probably been a bullet through my own head? What would I have done in those circumstances if I'd grown up indoctrinated on propoganda? I'll never know, of course.

In both Restitution and The One I Was the 'What would I have done?' question preoccupied me. Impossible to answer: we're not the same people as the Germans in the 30s and 40s. But we can still ask ourselves and try and listen to what the most truthful part of us offers up in response. Some of my answers haven't been very brave answers, despite my hoping that I would have done the right thing.The One I Was--Restitution


*I'm just editing this to add that I haven't forgotten, of course, Reitz's wonderful Heimat, which I first started watching because I wanted to research German kitchen interiors of the 1930s and which Google eventually led me to! The excuse of 'research' eventually became a bare-faced lie and I watched all of the first series in a kind of binge. I never liked the second and third series as much. For me, the story hung on Katharina and Maria, the matriarchs, and their centrality to the life of the community. Of course, war comes to Heimat but the village is certainly not on the Eastern Front and is reasonably peaceful untroubled, although there are those shaky moments when the American (fortunately not the Red Army) roll into the village in 1945. So it's not really a depiction of war in the same way as Generation War. Though I will never forget the scenes where Wilfried Wiegand shoots the downed British airman, only metres away from a car-ful of children, and where he tells off Katharina for giving the POWs a decent meal. And Katharina travelling into Bochum to rescue a young Lotti after her father was arrested. I must watch series one again. Brilliant.

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