'We explicitly wanted this type of discussion about national identity, heritage and guilt' - Benjamin Benedict on Generation War
The German WWII mini-series provoked debate about the country's role during and after the war
As Generation War is released on DVD, Henry Northmore considers the thought-provoking German mini-series that offers a very different perspective on World War II
In terms of popular culture, we're so used to seeing the events of World War II through Allied Forces eyes. But what about the lives, hopes and dreams of those who fought for Germany? This fresh viewpoint is what makes German mini-series Generation War so interesting.
It tells the story of five friends over five years starting in Berlin, 1941: brothers Wilhelm (Volker Bruch) and Friedhelm (Tom Schilling), who join the army and head for the Eastern Front; military nurse Charly (Miriam Stein); Jewish tailor Viktor (Ludwig Trepte) and his girlfriend, aspiring singer Greta (Katharina Schüttler). They expect to be home by Christmas but, of course, the brutal reality of war changes their lives forever. Each of them is forced to confront their own morals, ethics and ideological stand point. Inevitably, under the influence of Hitler and the Nazi war machine, they don't always make the right decision.
Unsurprisingly, it caused controversy and debate when first broadcast in Germany last year. 'The German title was Our Mothers, Our Fathers, but we explicitly wanted this type of discussion about national identity, heritage and guilt which concerns every family in Germany,' explains producer Benjamin Benedict who worked for nine years on a project based on an initial idea by co-producer Nico Hofmann and scriptwriter Stefan Kolditz. ‘It had the effect we wanted: a dialogue between generations raising the question of what our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers experienced during wartime? Those who survived actually built Germany after the war and that really interested us.'
Generation War is an incredibly compelling drama (Schilling is particularly strong in his role as a conflicted soldier) that raises some hard questions. To Benedict's surprise it was picked up and broadcast in France, Italy, America and by the BBC. When dealing with such sensitive subject matter inevitably there have been some criticisms and accusations of historical inaccuracy. 'We wanted to be storytellers and didn't want to produce a documentary,' says Benedict. 'We had a lot of advisors who were reading the script and watching the filming so we didn't want to ignore historical fact but these characters are fictional.'
It never asks for forgiveness but Generation War is a stark reminder that whether right or wrong human beings fought on both sides and everyone paid a terrible cost. 'It's not a defence, that's not possible, it cannot be excused,' adds Benedict. 'The guilt is an eternal factor and it cannot be questioned. It's clear Germany caused the Second World War and it's clear Germany was responsible for the Holocaust. So in no way did we want to excuse this or hide the facts but on the other side we did want to ask how people were driven into these situations under these circumstances.'
Generation War is available now on Arrow Films Blu-ray & DVD.