The back of the box for “Generation War” calls it a “German ‘Band of Brothers.’” Starting in 1941 and ending with the war itself in 1945, “Generation War” in its scope—Germany, Russia, Poland—and cast of characters is certainly worth comparing with that epic HBO mini-series originally broadcast in 2001. The most important difference is the fact that this 3 part series—each part a feature-length movie—is purely from the German point of view—to be specific, two brothers, both soldiers; a nurse working behind the front lines, an aspiring singer, and a tailor who also happens to be Jewish. Believing the war will be over by Christmas (of 1941), these five young people are of course unaware of the horrors they are going to encounter. As viewers we watch them lose their innocence as the nightmare of Nazism and the world war envelope them.
There are a couple reasons I found this series compelling. For one, watching the story of the war in Europe from the German side rather than the American is powerful, giving us faces and voices that we wouldn’t normally encounter in a drama set in this era. Beyond that though, the story gives us fully human characters—characters who start out agreeing with Hitler’s cause (or at least sympathetic to it) but, over the course of four brutal years, see its costs both in personal and national terms. These people draw our sympathy rather than our ire, and that of course makes us care for them, despite (or because of) their predicaments. The second reason “Generation War” (originally titled in German “Our Mothers, Our Fathers”—an apt title for younger generations to think about) works so well is its use of parallel stories—moving us from the Russian front to Berlin and occupied Poland, each character’s fate different than the other but united by the fact that these five were and are friends who ultimately want nothing more than to be reunited with each other and get on with their lives. I won’t give away the ending, other than to say that in its sadness and joy it brings us to a conclusion that is both sobering and believable.
Posted by: David