Expanding Our Minds
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 03/16/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Unknown Soldier"
Expanding Our Minds
The darkest period in the history of the world without question was the Holocaust and even though there is a lot that we know about it, there is also a great deal that we do not know and even more that we don't understand. Michael Verhoeven takes another look at the Holocaust in his documentary "The Unknown Soldier"(First Run Features) in which he examines the crimes against humanity which were committed by the Nazi regime. It has long been thought that it was the Gestapo, the Waffen SS and powerful Nazis like Himmler and Eichmann and Hitler who were directly responsible for the extermination of millions of people and that the ordinary German soldier was but a mere pawn. This film will change that opinion.
Verhoeven manages to bring to light that the German soldier was not fee of guilt and he shows this by showing modern Germany existing in the throes of an identity crisis. "The Unknown Soldier" documents the extremely controversial Wehrmacht Exhibition which brought to the public eye for the first time personal letters, photographs and film footage which implicate the German soldier in horrific and heinous acts. The film deflates the closely held belief that everyday German citizens and low-ranking German military men held no blame for the crimes of the Nazi regime. In fact, we see, in many cases that Grandpa was a Nazi.
Idealist and far right groups led street protests against the Wehrmacht Exhibition and claimed that the evidence implicating that the testimonies of German fathers and grandfathers were falsified. Verhoeven weaves together interviews with historians, experts, soldiers and experts and he traveled to the places where executions took place on the Eastern front. He shatters taboos and gives us a picture of Germany that we have never had before--and it is frightening. In watching the film we expand our thinking about the Holocaust to beyond the concentration camps and the gas chambers. We have a look at a Germany that is still examining its history and looking at its very tragic wartime legacy. The film shocks and also shows the thin line between wishful thinking and national pathology and we watch that idea evaporate very quickly.
The cover of the DVD case asks very simply, "What did you do in the warm Daddy?" Verhoeven answers that question and I now find it even harder to think of Germany as a member of the world community.
I completely disagree with the other reviewer that we should forget and move on. Should we also forget the millions who lost their lives for no reason? Forgetting something so horrible also gives license to allow it to happen again. Germany is not and never will be free from blame for the murder of six million of my people as well as millions of others. Forget? I don't think so.
Were All Wehrmacht Soldiers War Criminals?
Robert C. Doyle | 10/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary, designed for modern German and Austrian audiences, is startling, and for Germans born in the 1950s and 1960s it damns the older members of their families with a universal war guilt sometimes far beyond anything they can imagine. For some Germans, it is indeed cathartic to air the dirty laundry of the past; for others it's absolutely necessary, and for a third group, it can be a tragically horrid experience. This documentary rocked Germany's socks. I was a Fulbright Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Muenster in 1995, just when the Hamburg Exposition exploded on the scene. It did much harm as it did much good. Some old Wehrmacht soldiers, once proud of their wartime service, could hardly look their families in the eye. In a higher view of World War II, it does tell an essential and sad truth: that the wanton destruction of innocents including the premeditated wiping out of an entire people throughout Europe cannot be forgiven easily regardless of how much time has passed since 1945."
Free at last
J from NY | New York | 10/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Until the full extent of German complicity--civilians and soldiers included--in the atrocities of WWII are revealed this nation will never be free from the considerable shame wrought by this time period. We should keep in mind too, though, that there were German resistance fighters and that most attempts on Adolf Hitler's life were committed by German citizens/military.
"The Unknown Soldier" is a particularly disheartening documentary on the 1995 Wehrmacht exhibition that took place in Vienna (and opens periodically every year those who care to take a look) which reveals pretty clearly that all members of the German army were either aware of or took part in the atrocities and mass shootings of civilians usually relegated to the SS or the Gestapo.
The obvious place of the Holocaust in the German psyche is shown very clearly as people outside the exhibition shove each other around, scream, and passionately debate about the accuracy or non-accuracy of the material presented in the exhibition. At one point a group of nearly toothless skinheads and right wing nutcases show up flying the Iron Cross and insisting that the whole thing is nonsense and that "the press lies".
Not so, it seems. Four German historians, sensitive to the subject matter, uncover photographs of ordinary German soldiers standing next to executed jews (one photograph of a three year old jewish girl hanging is vomit worthy) and make it fairly clear that all German soldiers, Wehrmacht included, were given explicit instructions that they carried around on the Eastern front to shoot any of the "rabble" they encountered. An aging member of the Wehrmacht admits very frankly that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" captivated him for a time, and that he witnessed more than a few atrocities committed by the army. He also says very clearly that is ashamed of what he did and witnessed, and seems sincere.
What has long been suppressed is that German soldiers *were not* executed for refusing to participate in these atrocities; they were disciplined or were asked to work in different capacities. This has long been known by historians but has never been given as explicit treatment as in this documentary. And some Germans did just that; dropped out of the army entirely once that they saw what was going on.
This is not about all Germans being monsters. Very soon this entire generation will die off and I think Germany should be commended for being so conscientious of these things, unlike some other nations who did very similar things and have never apologized once. This is depressing and I would not watch it again, but is very important. Recommended to any student of history."