The difficult past: The TV series “Generation War”


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By Folke Gravklev 

The second world war has loomed over Germany since 1945. Rightly so: The Nazi government inflicted suffering  on peoples in eastern Europe, the Jewish population etc. on an unprecedented scale. The criminal regime used the full force of  German industrial capacity to attack, destroy, torture and exterminate innocent people everywhere.

This war has been described to the minutest details down to Hitler´s dog. But what about the common man in these extraordinary times? After the war very few Germans have spoken about their own war experiences.  Maybe it was too traumatic to share. Or maybe they were too ashamed? Anyway, the postwar generations know little about what their parents and grandparents took part in. But the traumas were not gone. Every postwar German family had members who were psychologically hurt, often to the extent that they were unable to take care of their children on a psychological basis. Alcoholism was rife, physical abuse not uncommon. And hardly anybody talked about what the older generation had been through.The TV series “Unsere Väter, unsere Mütter” (Generation War) flings these doors open. It describes five close friends, starting in the summer of 1941. The mood in Germany was optimistic, everybody expected a swift Soviet capitulation. But the tide turned, and the Soviets eventually fell upon Germany lusting for revenge. The five friends were scattered in all directions. The Jewish boy soon faced the concentration camps but escaped, joining Polish partisans who themselves were no strangers to anti-semitism. The two other boys enrolled in the Wehrmacht as soldiers on the eastern front, soon turning into experienced killers and taking part in war crimes. One of the girls went as a field nurse, on one occasion betraying a fellow Jewish nurse and sending her to a certain death. The second girl wanted to be a star, ending up as entertainer for the Nazi war machine before falling on really hard times. They all saw suffering beyond imagination,  facing dilemmas they did not come away from with entirely clean hands.

This openness about the common person´s doings in the war is something almost entirely new in Germany. The interest for the series in German-speaking Europe has been huge, even on the political level. The Polish government has protested sharply at the suggestion in the series that the Poles, who suffered so terribly in the war, themselves should harbour antisemitism.

To try to forget and suppress the horror one has been through is understandable, but it comes with its own price. Many were probably so traumatised that facing the past was something they could not handle. Better than swiping the past under the carpet would of course  be to try to accept and come to terms with what had happened. That would be a better solution for the children and grandchildren, who never got to know what hung so heavily on the older generation and shaped the dynamics in the postwar families. But easier said than done.

Never too late, one might say. Now the war generation is almost gone, and it is time to heal old wounds. Take a look yourself.

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