Paris — The German mini-series “Generation War” made its American debut as a film in New York City last month to generally favorable but notably skittish reviews. One critic sensed an attempt to continue “the self-deceiving lie” that the average German was a victim of Nazi rule. Another saw in it a “work of apologia.” Writing in this newspaper, A.O. Scott found himself in a “strange queasy zone between naturalism and nostalgia.”
“Generation War” traces the fates of five friends in summer 1941 Berlin cheerily toasting their departure to the eastern front with the expectation of a reunion back home by Christmas. The film ends with three of the five returning four years later — more than four and a half hours in cinematic time — to the war-ravaged ruins of Berlin to begin rebuilding the Germany that Angela Merkel governs today.
The film, which originally aired last March as a three-part series on German and Austrian television under the title, “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter,” or “Our Mothers, Our Fathers,” left some Germans feeling as uneasy as A.O. Scott. A reader of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit was particularly troubled by the portrayal of Polish anti-Semitism and Soviet Army excess. “The depiction of our eastern neighbors reminds me of Goebbels’ propaganda,” he wrote on a blog, invoking the Nazi-era spin-meister, Josef Goebbels.
But most of the 7.6 million Germans who watched the final episode, an impressive 24 percent of all viewers that night, welcomed a film that portrayed their “mothers” and “fathers” neither as heroes nor “monsters” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) but rather as a generation in their 20s and younger subjected to systematic indoctrination and gradual “brutalization” to which they succumbed in myriad and horrific ways....