Generation War – A Programme About Ordinary Germans Circa 1941

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I really do love the commitment the BBC is making to foreign drama nowadays. We’ve had Scandi, French, Italian, Belgian, even a Welsh police drama that looks really good. That’s not what I’ve been watching this week. I’ve been watching Generation War: Our Mothers, Our Fathers.

It’s a German drama that starts in 1941. It centred on a group of five friends in their early twenties, brothers Wilhelm and Friedhelm, Charlotte (Charly), Greta  and her Jewish boyfriend Viktor. The first programme opened with them spending a final night together as Wilhelm, Friedhelm and Charly prepare to leave for the Eastern Front. The boys are off to join a regiment, Wilhelm as lieutenant, his brother as a new recruit, and Charly goes to Smolensk as a nurse. Meanwhile Greta and Viktor remain in Berlin, with Viktor experiencing the increasing pressure on Jews.

It is, I would say, a morally ambiguous programme. So many  films and books set in this period of history are stories of good versus bad, the oppressed vs the oppressors. So far, this is about ordinary Germans, and what it meant to be an ordinary German in this time. Obviously there is a Jew in the group, but this does not mean that they are all automatically pro-Jewish. Indeed, there is an incident in Smolensk that indicates that Charly at least is a good National Socialist. Greta too is not dreadfully concerned about Jewish rights overall, merely thinking about how to keep Viktor safe. The route she goes down is morally ambiguous to say the least, and it seems that she is motivated by more than just a concern for his health.

Apparently it was very controversial when it was aired in Germany. I haven’t investigated why yet because I have only seen one programme and I don’t want to inadvertently ruin the ending for myself, should that be the reason for the controversy. However, I do wonder if the lack of an obvious moral standpoint for many of the main characters is the problem. I believe that Germany does struggle with this period in its history – understandably – and doesn’t always like to remember that it was not a fascist minority, but a viewpoint of many ordinary Germans that led to the war and the Holocaust.

I personally think it is a good thing to remember that most of the people that voted for Hitler were ordinary people with ordinary lives. I think that if we don’t remember that, then we forget how easy it is to adopt an abhorrent viewpoint as our own under the right circumstances. I also think that it is a lie to pretend that the Nazis were a minority, just as it would be a lie to pretend that only a few British people thought colonialism was a good thing. We are not those people and it is wrong to deny history because it is morally uncomfortable.

I think it is brave for a programme to tackle this head on, and just because it does so I don’t think it makes it wrong or Nazi loving. It just makes it honest. Aside from that, it is a really interesting programme and I really enjoyed it. Unusually, it is on BBC2, Saturday at 9.30pm. No BBC4 here! The first episode is on the iPlayer!

P.S. In a sidenote, BBC Young Musician Of The Year is currently airing. This is a fantastic programme and only on every two years. This is BBC4 at 7.30pm on Friday and previous episodes are on the iPlayer. Treat yourself!

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