Six ordinary German soldiers who fought on the Russian front in WWII are the subjects of this revelatory documentary. They are also, in part, the photographers: amateur cameramen, they shot their own footage of the war, mostly with spring-wound 8mm cameras small enough to fit in the pocket
of a great-coat. While most of the scenes of war are not new, the veterans' answers to questions posed by the filmmakers reveal both the Wehrmacht's strength and its moral callousness.
Early scenes show the initial German success when the war against Soviet Russia was unleashed on June 22, 1941; the shoulders of the road are strewn with battered and broken Russian tanks and trucks. The first amateur cameraman, now a balding archivist, is the most remorseful about the Nazi years
and his self-described role as an "accomplice." Another cameramen was attached to a Luftwaffe ground crew, while yet another was a member of a Panzer group, a third was an artillerist and a fourth, an army surgeon.
Almost none of these soldiers seemed to have been aware that they would soon be fighting Russia. The shock of their attack is clear from grimly graphic scenes of shattered corpses amid burning buildings; the artillerist states that this was the first time he saw a dead man. Many scenes are
familiar from other compilation films: the assortment of armored vehicles traversing the rolling plain, the JU-88 bomber crews preparing for a mission, infantry with tunic collars open and sleeves rolled marching along the edge of the frequently unpaved roads that soon turned into lakes of mud,
through which even the tanks had trouble moving. The most disturbing footage is a brief, unfocused scene of some men being pushed around and searched by troops. Several of the veterans recalled being under suspiciously accurate fire and thought the local inhabitants had a hand in it. To his
credit, one of these now grandfatherly men grows nervous and abashed when asked about their ultimate fate. There is also a shot of a scaffold with half a dozen corpses of both sexes and a sign in German and Russian explaining that "these Jews were executed for agitation against the German
The success of the opening attack had one immense drawback--huge numbers of Soviet POWs who had to be fed and housed. The artillery officer apologizes that so many Russians were left to starve to death. We see them in over-exposed footage from a hot, sunny day; many have bandaged wounds, while
some are dazed and bootless. In discussing German soldiers' attitudes toward the Russians, only one man, the archivist (the only one of the film's subjects to have been captured by the Red Army) says he learned to see them as normal people. Most of the interviewees seem to mourn only their own
dead; one even regrets that he was not able to visit the conquered lands of western Europe, and another states that he has nothing on his conscience. Only two express remorse about their wartime experiences.
Incisively honest, this film gives a dramatic and sobering gloss to its historic footage. (Graphic violence, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: Six ordinary German soldiers who fought on the Russian front in WWII are the subjects of this revelatory documentary. They are also, in part, the photographers: amateur cameramen, they shot their own footage of the war, mostly with spring-wound 8mm cameras… (more)