Materials of the first film-webinar "Heroes of (Not) Our Time”
On February 21, 2019 the first film-webinar was held where the mini-series "Our mothers, our fathers" ("Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter", the film also known as Generation War), dedicated to the events of the Second World War was watched and discussed. The film-webinar was organized with the support of the Center for Biographical Research "AITIA".
The undergraduate and graduate students of the major “Cultural Studies” ("Culture of Germany", “Culture of Italy”, "Russian Culture") at the Institute of Philosophy of the Saint-Petersburg State University, as well as students of other faculties and audience from outside the university took part in the discussion, also the special quests from Germany were invited – Lars Krause (Göttingen) and Sabina Fischotter (Hamburg, took part via Skype).
The text below is a full transcript of the discussion at the webinar, after stylistic edition and partly with translation from German.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Sabina, tell us, what was your first impression of the series? How was it perceived by the Germans? When did you watch it, how long ago was it?
Sabina Fischotter: It was quite recently. The series was filmed for the next generation. They wanted to show the generation of fathers, grandfathers in their youth. Thus, it became possible to include the younger generation in the conversation. Because, in principle, we are talking about the past of parents, grandparents - they are not young people. Therefore, the purpose of this series was to show how people participated in the war, how they got involved in it. And the series was very well received. This series is very "successful", precisely because it shows "another war" and it does not condemn.
Younger brother Friedhelm Winter, played by Tom Schilling, - his development during the war is extremely interesting. It is very well shown ... albeit sad.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Is it sad in the sense that this development shows how he changed during the war?
Sabina Fischotter: Yes. Since you have watched only the first episode, I will just say that great challenges and changes await him.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Does our audience have any questions for Sabina?
Valeriy Belyayev: In Russia, there is such a practice that when certain films are released, films about the war or covering any parts of the history, very often schoolchildren and even students are organized to attend such films. Does a similar practice exist in Germany? In the form of a private or public initiative?
Sabina Fischotter: Yes, there is such a practice. This series is shown in schools, as well as «Schindler's List» (dir. S. Spielberg, 1993) - an American film about a man, Oscar Schindler, who saved the Jews.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Yes, this film is widely known in Russia. It means that such practice exists, and not only German, but also American and other foreign films are shown. Thank you!
Sabina Fischotter: Patriotism is still very little developed in Germany. We, precisely because of our history, do not have such patriotism, such love for our hometowns, for example. The first time in my life, when people spoke openly about their pride for the country, was the recent FIFA World Cup. It was the first time the Germans marched with German flags. Before that ... of course, there were people with German flags, but they were single, incomprehensible, dubious people, often politically motivated. But after 2014 you can proudly say: "Yes, I am German."
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Thank you, it is a very important detail. Tell us, Sabina, can you imagine your father watching this movie?
Sabina Fischotter: ... I would really want him to watch it. I don't know what he would say. He was a military man, and until his death he claimed that the Wehrmacht, the army was "decent". There was an exhibition in Munich, which showed that atrocities in the Ukraine, in Belarus were the work not only of special units, but as well of the German army in general. And it was a scandal (transcriptor’s note: most likely, Wehrmachtsausstellung is meant). It was the truth that most people were not ready to accept. As for the SS - yes, but the Wehrmacht, our military were considered innocent, they just "defended their homeland." Even if it had to be defended in the Ukraine. I don't know what my father would say. He also always defended this thought.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Did he remain faithful to this idea that the Wehrmacht is the best part of the army?
Sabina Fischotter: Yes. That the SS and the SA, but not ordinary military, did all this, although it is scientifically proven that without the Wehrmacht, without the army - the SS and the SA could not do anything.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: But the first series shows the savage story of the murder of a Jewish girl, which is committed by an SS officer, and how painfully both brothers (from the Wehrmacht) react to it. They do not accept this. This is at the time of the first series.
Sabina Fischotter: Of course, the SS conducted the most terrible crimes. But you should consider the dates - it is the beginning of the war.
I also have a question for you – are you touched by these images presented in the series, do they influence you?
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Indeed, these images touched us, because the first reaction of the audience was silence. This means that we are immersed in the series, that it is very well made.
Elizaveta Kravchenko: And in which part of Germany the filming took place?
Sabina Fischotter: I do not know. Probably in Berlin. Also, for making a film about that time often locations in Poland or the Czech Republic are chosen.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: But the presented “landscapes of Russia”, most likely, were not shot in Russia, in Belarus or Ukraine.
Daria Yumatova: Do the actors speak Hochdeutsch or the Saxon dialect?
Sabina Fischotter: In the series the actors speak Hochdeutsch. The characters live in Berlin, there is Berlin dialect, but for the series, it was omitted.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Sabina, do you remember any Russian films about the war?
Sabina Fischotter: Actually, you should recommend me movies, which are required to watch!
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Ok, we will send you the list. Are there any other questions? For Sabina it is important how we perceive this series, how we now are talking about it with each other. We impose all this on the images that already exist in our cultural memory. I am sure that you already have your «own» images of the war. It is clear on which films my generation grew up. It is difficult for me to perceive new stylistics - not because it is wrong or ugly, but because a new generation of war films is appearing now, and they are different. How do you think the mini-series is made according to the stylistics?
Valeriya Dudinets: I think this film is quite hard for the Russian audience. It is an opportunity to look at the war from the other side. We are used to watching how Russians participate in the war, about their Victory, that the Germans are enemies. In this series, everything is reversed, and it is unusual to see the Germans as the main characters.
For the first time we see whom they actually were. For an ordinary person, who does not take interest in philosophy or cultural studies, it will be a shock. I suppose that for most Russians this series will be a bit tough, because regardless of the fact that time changes, people’s patriotism is still deep and it will be difficult for them to see the other side.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: However, you are not talking about everyone now; you are talking about your generation. My generation perceives this series in a different way.
Valeriya Dudinets: On the other hand, our generation is not far removed from the Soviet images. At school we were told about Soviet films, we read Soviet literature, and primarily we were told about Soviet people. Thus, we associate the image of war with the Soviet Union. It is true that we are not its inheritors, but we perceive the war through the Soviet prism.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Through the images of Soviet films and books. You mentioned a very interesting topic.
I summarize for Sabina – it is still difficult for us to watch movies where main characters are the Germans, because when we are watching our war films we look at the war from «our side», even German speech is often not heard. To see the Germans as the main characters of the series is already a surprise for the Russian audience, for some people even a shock.
Sabina Fischotter: It is completely understandable. They got used to see the Germans as fascists, SS officers. However, you should see the whole picture. There were also ordinary people who went to war and who changed during it. The series very well shows, how a person enters the war and how he is transformed. War changes people.
Guest: It is very interesting that of all the military men represented, only Friedhelm looks like a living person... Even his brother, who returned from the war, if we think in the paradigm of Russian war films - that is how we imagine more or less significant German characters. Wilhelm is a rather «Wagner» character. All the others seem to be some extras, «for the Führer» and there is nothing else behind it. Only Friedhelm, the younger brother, is interesting to watch - he is clearly passing all this through himself.
Daniil Vedernikov: I watched this series three years ago. And I watched a lot of movies with Tom Schilling’s participation - he is one of my favorite German actors. This is an amazing movie. I believe that, firstly, this movie handles the problem of the «guilt complex – no guilt complex» and represents an unusual view that we are not used to. Of course, it will be stigmatized, as it is done with any film that is not made according to the official line. Nevertheless, it should be shown.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Sabina, our guest says that the Russian audience, who is tired of «hurray-patriotic» films, needs such a series. It is an opportunity to look at the other side of the coin, although not every Russian viewer may be ready for such a style. Are there any other comments?
Lyubava Putylya: Referring to the topic of patriotism. Throughout the film, the thought that the war was «different» never left me. In one of the episodes, it was said that this war was not an ordinary war, but the war of ideologies. Meanwhile, for the common man, there was a dictatorship on both sides - in the USSR and in Germany.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: After perestroika, many aspects were revised in history, and the idea that Stalin’s dictatorship and Hitler’s dictatorship were equivalent concepts was strengthened. Therefore, the question of the kind of war is difficult – whether it actually was the struggle of ideologies.
Sabina Fischotter: Yes, the war was different. Like the character of the elder brother, many people went to war, thinking that it was honest, fair, and only after that they realized that it was not the case.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: But the question remains: is World War II a war of worldviews?
Sabina Fischotter: Yes it is. Completely different war. There was long and active propaganda: that the Germans were protecting their land, that they would get new land for their families. People were sure that they were doing something good.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: This means that it was a war of two systems?
Valeriya Dudinets: As one of the points of view, it can be interpreted as follows: if they are not embedded in all the historical details. Two totalitarian regimes collided. What this situation has led to is a great question already for our generation. However, if we talk specifically about the series, about this particular episode, then we do not see a war of ideologies - only one of the parties is shown. Maybe just the scene of the execution of the commissioner leads us to such interpretation.
Daniil Vedernikov: Actually, it seems to me that there is exactly no ideology war showed in the series. There is life of ordinary people.
Anastasiya Ganzburg: Movie characters are quite young. We do not see adults with already established worldview. Perhaps that is why it is more difficult for us to perceive the «other» side, which is shown in the series.
Valeriya Dudinets: There was demonstrated a generation that passed the First World War (the father of Wilhelm and Friedhelm). The influence of this generation is a very important moment, particularly in research on the Second World War.
Guest: I want to make such a clarification. What does «a war of worldviews» mean? The worldviews in the Third Reich and the USSR were completely different, the historical context was completely different - it is indisputable. However, the war is clearly not a consequence of this.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: It turns out that the series itself shows how young people’s consciousness is entering a new situation rather than demonstrates a war of worldviews.
Guest: I would also add that in any war, where the parties represent more or less different cultures, it is possible to see a war of worldviews.
Guest 2: It may be worthwhile to speak not of worldviews, but of attitudes, and within the Germans themselves. We see how various ideas are fighting inside them - attitude towards Jews, attitude towards themselves, attitude towards duty, towards love. This is a deep human tragedy.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: Yes. It is the leitmotif of the series. But now it is time to introduce another guest from Germany into our discussion.
Lars Krause: Good evening! My name is Lars Krause. I study in the Department of International Politics in St. Petersburg in the framework of the program of student exchange. I also learn Russian, but only at the primary level so far. I am from Göttingen, a city in the center of Germany. As I understand it, I was invited here to help with the discussion.
Alena Rezvukhina: I am curious about the historical context of the beginning of the series: the main characters are five friends, one of whom, Victor, is a Jew. And how is it possible that, despite the political situation around them, they do not distance from him? They know about anti-Semitic laws, but there is no conflict.
Lars Krause: If the question is how realistic it is, then it was possible. People - Jews and Germans - lived side by side before the Nazi regime. The Germans had Jewish friends, not everyone was a convinced Nazi, so the series shows a completely normal situation that could have taken place in reality. Many people, for example, tried to hide the Jews.
Alena Rezvukhina: But the attitude in the series, in my opinion, shows a certain naivety of friends about what fate Victor may face, as if they do not understand that his fate may be different from theirs. That they may not reunite after the war.
Lars Krause: Yes. In our time, this situation seems strange, difficult to imagine in the totalitarian state of that time.
Daniil Vedernikov: Please, tell us, which German films about the Second World War do you consider as «the strongest»?
Lars Krause: It is hard to say. It is a difficult topic, and there is also a strict ban on the depiction of Nazi symbols in Germany, so the situation with war films is now tough. On the whole, the outlook on the war is much «americanized». However, I would mention the movie «Das Boot» (dir. Wolfgang Petersen, 1981).
Daniil Vedernikov: And as for black-and-white early films? For example, «Westfront 1918» (dir. Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1930)?
Lars Krause: I have never seen this movie. Nevertheless, if we talk about the situation in cinema as a whole, the images of war have become easily manipulated if we are speaking about live action films, not documentary films.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: I also watched the recent film «The Bridge» (dir. Wolfgang Panzer, 2008). The plot focuses on adolescents from the Hitler Youth, who are entrusted with guarding the bridge at the time when the main army is leaving.
Lars Krause: Yes, I know this film.
Daniil Vedernikov: And the film «Downfall» (dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)?
Lars Krause: I did not like this movie. There is a feeling that it is highly politicized.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: And let us remember how in the series we just watched the boys from different parts of Germany. They are peasants, or of humble origins, and they tell what they expect from this war. What do we hear? This is one of the key points of the film, one of the important lines.
Guest 3: For example, one of the minor soldier heroes says that he acts according to the book «Mein Kampf». This means that it is important for him to do what he is told to do. With reference to authority. Someone spoke about ideology, about the differences of peoples.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: This is an ideological stamp, and it is present in the characters. What else is there?
Daria Krushinskaya: There was one guy who really wanted to get land in the East, get married, start a family, run a farm. Some kind of material interest.
Lyudmila Artamoshkina: And it is clear from which situation such motivation is born, from the economic crisis in Germany of those times.
Guest: There was a moment in the series when the characters have already traveled several hundred kilometers across the enemy territory, but at the same time, they said: «We are protecting our homeland». And this is also a part of the idea that people believed in propaganda so sincerely.
Guest 2: I agree with the previous remark. Any attack can be presented as a defense. The ideology worked in such a way that the Germans shared the opinion that they brought comfort, civilization, if not happiness, for these lands. Actually, the problem of ideology has not disappeared; it remains even in our time, in the XXI century.
Lars Krause: As for my vision of the reasons that pushed people to participate into the war - it was mostly the proletariat, and mostly the people who were going with the flow. Perhaps there were not so many ideologically convinced people, as the people who simply joined, were “driven” by inertia. This does not relieve them of their responsibility. Responsibility for the fact that they virtually passed the responsibility for their actions into the hands of someone else.
Transcript of video recording of the seminar: Anna Rezvukhina
Stylistic editing and translation from Russian: Alena Rezvukhina, Lyubava Putylya