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Series / Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter

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Wir waren fünf Freunde. Wir waren jung. Wir waren unsterblich. Wir sollten es bald besser wissen.

Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (literally "Our Mothers, Our Fathers", titled Generation War in the US, UK and France) is a 2013 German drama miniseries set in World War II. Done in the style of Band of Brothers, but with German soldiers. And extra grimness, since it's primarily set on the Eastern Front, and The Holocaust has much plot significance.

June 1941. Five childhood friends gather in Berlin to hold a goodbye party for the three among them who are soon to head for the Eastern Front. Wilhelm Winter (Volker Bruch) and his younger brother Friedhelm have been called to serve in the Wehrmacht, while Charlotte has volunteered as a nurse. Staying in Berlin are aspiring singer Greta Müller (Katharina Schüttler) and her Jewish lover Viktor Goldstein. The group wish each other well, and part ways in high spirits, hoping to be together again at Christmas.

Of course, it doesn't quite work out like that. And as the months and years drag by, and the fighting becomes ever more brutal, for these young people the war becomes a desperate struggle not only to survive, but to retain their humanity even while serving an inhumane regime.

This series contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Hospital: The military hospital where Charlotte is stationed is inevitably evacuated in the wake of the Russian advance.
  • Action Girl: Alina breaks out of a train bound for a concentration camp with just a knife and sheer grit. With a bit of help.
  • Alliterative Name: Wilhelm Winter.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted — none of the five main characters are depicted as loyal to the Nazi party, which would have been highly unusual for the time and is most likely a deliberate case of Artistic License to make them more sympathetic to modern viewers. Even so, they commit various morally questionable acts and outright war crimes over the course of the series: Charly turns in a Jewish nurse to what she knows will be certain death (though the woman survives), Friedhelm executes numerous unarmed people, including a little boy, and even the otherwise noble Wilhelm executes a prisoner and orders Soviet civilians marched through a minefield.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Wilhelm, who has previous experience from the invasions of Poland and France, and who has attained the rank of Lieutenant, considers his bookish brother, a new recruit, to be too soft for the work of a soldier, and confesses to feeling ashamed of him on occasion. On the other hand, he also admires Friedhelm's wit and intelligence.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Charlotte to Wilhelm, after she discovers he's alive.
  • Anyone Can Die: Naturally. There is a bloody war on.
  • Attempted Rape: Charlotte is assaulted and almost raped by a Russian soldier, but is rescued by Lilija.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: After Viktor leaves the partisans, Germans run past him to invade their hideout, accompanied by screams and gunshots offscreen. It is unknown whether any of the partisans survived.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Hildegard, close to the end of the war as she begins to take out her reaction to the Germans losing the war on Charlotte.
  • Big Damn Hero: As written above Charlotte is rescued just in time by Lilija from being raped by a Soviet soldier.
  • Bookworm: Providing the situation does not merit a gun, Friedhelm Winter is never seen without a book. In one of his first scenes, he attempts to stuff as many books as he can into his luggage.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Alina, the Polish prisoner Viktor goes on the run with.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Greta begins an affair with Dorn in order to obtain false papers from him to help Viktor escape from Germany.
  • Break the Cutie: Especially Charlotte and Friedhelm.
  • Break the Haughty: Greta had always been impetuous, but even her status as a Glamorous Wartime Singer doesn't save her from imprisonment and death for treason. Not to mention how the things she's done for the sake of her ambition take a toll on her.
  • Break Them by Talking: Friedhelm tells Wilhelm what he's known all along: that the war is pointless. The disillusionment leads to Wilhelm deserting the Wehrmacht twice, which may have saved his life.
  • Cassandra Truth: We can do a Drinking Game for all the times that Viktor tells his father that German Jews are going to have a hard time and his daddy blindly ignores him.
  • Cat Scare: When Wilhelm looks around an abandoned Russian cabin, he's disturbed by a black cat who knocks over some pans.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Friedhelm manages to use his fluent Russian to disguise himself as a Soviet soldier to escape the enemy lines.
  • Child by Rape: Alina was repeatedly raped by the German farmer she was forced to work for as a Polish slave laborer, then got pregnant and gave birth to a girl. Her daughter was taken away by the farmer because he and his wife couldn't have children. After he stated his intent to sire a son by her as well, she threatened him with a knife, and was sent off to Auschwitz, though she escapes before arrival.
  • Childhood Friends: The five main characters have grown up in the same neighbourhood.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Greta and Viktor.
  • Child Soldiers: The average age of new recruits steadily drops as the war continues, and by 1945, Friedhelm finds himself serving alongside a 12-year-old.
  • The Corrupter: Sturmbannführer Hiemer assumes this role towards Friedhelm, halfway ordering him, halfway coaxing him into shooting a child In the Back in one scene, and being the executioner for a group of Polish partisans in another.
  • Cunning Linguist: Friedhelm is the only one of his fellow German soldiers who speaks fluent Russian.
  • Cycle of Revenge:
    Charlotte: Why are you helping me?
    Lilija: Because otherwise it will never stop.
  • Dad the Veteran: Viktor's father fought in World War I but this won't save him from being deported as a Jew.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Friedhelm is very cynical about the entire war, and when he does open his mouth, it's usually to let everyone around him know. The snark wears off as the breaking sets in, however.
  • Death Faked for You: When the Polish resistance group decide they want to kill Viktor for being German and/or Jewish, the leader, who doesn't agree, takes Victor off into the forest, fires a shot into the ground, and tells him to get lost, though wishing him good luck.
  • Death of a Child: In the first episode Hiemer shoots a little Jewish girl in the head.
  • Death Seeker: Implied with Friedhelm; when a Russian bomber flies over the squad's position, his fellow soldier tells him to put his cigarette out. Instead, he takes a long, ostentatious drag. At the end he gets the Soviet soldiers to kill him.
  • Desolation Shot: When Viktor returns to his old neighborhood after the war and finds it's been half-destroyed.
  • Dirty Commies: A couple of the Wehrmacht soldiers have this attitude. One of them is just plain terrified of communists. The Polish partisans of the Home Army also hate the communists (the feelings were mutual — in the wake of the war, many Home Army and other noncommunist partisans were shot or imprisoned by Soviet and Polish communist forces. A few held out into the '60s).
  • Double Entendre: The man-hungry nurse in episode 1 is not at all subtle about this. She sidles up in front of Wilhelm with a cigarette in her hand and says, "I bet a good-looking lieutenant like you has a big lighter."
  • Dressing as the Enemy: When Friedhelm is abandoned behind enemy lines, he takes a dead Red Army soldier's uniform to sneak past the Soviets, but this results in him getting shot dead center by the Germans and he nearly dies from blood loss.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Nazi Germany versus the USSR. One of the Polish partisans puts it correctly;
    "The Germans think we're only fit to be slaves. The Russians won't be any different."
  • Fatal Family Photo: Lilija's family photo. Literally, because it has a flipping menorah in the background. Subverted though, as she turns up alive and heading a division of Russian soldiers near the end of the series.
  • Forced Miscarriage: A Gestapo officer punches his pregnant mistress in the stomach after she demands financial support for his unborn child. As a result she miscarries, then he has her arrested and killed.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Nazi Germany loses World War II.
  • Foreshadowing: When Friedhelm tells a Red Shirt "They have Siberian hunters who can hit a coin from 300 metres," you can probably guess what happens next.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Friedhelm grabs Wilhelm to tell him to pull himself together after the latter breaks down over the futility of their current mission during the Battle of Kursk (basically, keep advancing down this useless street until your whole unit is dead), because despite everything, they need a commander.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Charlotte sports these in the beginning - and in the photograph seen throughout the series - though army regulations mean her hair is soon in a bun.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Greta, to the point of deconstruction. While her signature song becomes a universally recognized hit, her singing career comes at the price of sleeping with a Nazi officer and she finds herself performing as much on makeshift, open air stages just behind the front lines as she does in swanky dance halls or recording studios. Ultimately, her status as a nationally renowned singer isn't enough to save her from arrest and execution at the hands of the Gestapo.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Greta's death.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Polish Home Army is depicted as rampantly anti-Semitic. In reality, the truth was more complicated: attitudes towards Jews varied widely from unit to unit, ranging from actively hunting Jews to going out of their way to save them.
  • Home by Christmas: In the opening scenes, five friends have one last drink in Berlin. Two of them are leaving for service in Operation Barbarossa, one of them has volunteered to be a nurse on the front, another is an aspiring singer, and the last one is Jewish. They leave, hoping that by Christmas, Russia will be crushed and all of them will be reunited in that bar. The war ends four years later, Germany is defeated, and two of the friends don't make it back.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The three parts are respectively called A Different Time ("Eine andere Zeit"), A Different War ("Ein anderer Krieg"), and A Different Country ("Ein anderes Land").
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Aspiring actress Greta begins an affair with a Gestapo officer to protect her Jewish boyfriend. Later in the war she confronts him by revealing that he has gotten her pregnant and should provide for his out-of-wedlock child. He responds by beating her so severely that she miscarries, then has her arrested.
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: A very unwilling Captain Feigl does this to Wilhelm.
  • Interrupted Declaration of Love: Charlotte is about to tell the departing Wilhelm that she's in love with him, but is interrupted by a knock on the door from the Gestapo, of all people.
  • Irony: Wilhelm, a respected lieutenant, becomes so disillusioned with the war and the suffering it brings that he deserts. Friedhelm, a draftee who has known this all along, keeps serving the army until the very end.
  • Jumped at the Call: Charlotte enthusiastically volunteers to become a nurse in the front line, genuinely believing that she can serve the country she loves in a just war.
  • Just Following Orders: Invoked by Sturmbannführer Hiemer.
  • Karma Houdini: Dorn ends up in the employ of the Allied administration after the war, and is ironically tasked with helping victims of Nazi persecution locate their relatives.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Schmidt. Wilhelm's unit is fighting some Russians in a factory in the first episode. The Russian fire ceases. One soldier says "Maybe we got them all." Schmidt replies "Or they're on the phone to their—" when he is killed by a bullet to the neck.
  • The Kindness of Strangers: In the probation unit, Wilhelm is ordered to burn a peasant's house down. The elderly couple inside invites him, kerosene tank and all, to have a meal with them. He doesn't burn their house down.
  • Land Mine Goes "Click!": Zig-zagged. When one of Wilhelm and Friedhelm's fellow soldiers steps on a mine in a muddy swamp, the rest of the unit has time to evacuate the blast radius before the doomed private blows himself up. Shortly afterwards, however, when the survivors force the local civilians to walk through the swamp as human mine detectors, any mines they step on go off immediately.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: The two girls: Glamorous Wartime Singer Greta and Girl Next Door Charlotte. Subverted in that, of the two, Greta is the one who manages to retain her moral compass (i.e. she uses every means possible to rescue her Jewish lover, is arrested for speaking out against the war, and even sacrifices her own life rather than help Dorn escape justice for his activities as a member of the SS, while Charlotte in contrast dutifully turns in a Jewish woman hiding in her field hospital).
  • Many Questions Fallacy: The partisan leader uses this on Alina to ascertain if she really is from Warsaw and not a spy.
  • The Medic: Charlotte, Hildegard, Lilija, and the other nurses.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: It's wartime. No one is completely morally good or evil, not even the protagonists.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Tragically, Mr. Goldstein, a veteran of World War I and a proud German, is determined to remain loyal to his country even as the persecution of Jews intensifies. When he and his family are ordered to adopt badges identifying them as Jews, he does so without protest, arguing that a good German citizen should always obey the law. This causes Viktor to snap at him that Jews are no longer considered German citizens.
  • Naïve Newcomer:
    • Charlotte as a nurse at the Eastern Front. The freezing look that the chief nurse gives her speaks for itself.
    • Greta, during her morale boosting tour at the front, seems tremendously out of touch, assuming planes will wait for her - or that she can just call someone for a ride - in the midst of battle.
    • Many of the New Meat soldiers posted to Wilhelm and Friedhelm's unit are depicted this way, overly eager for battle and clueless about conditions at the front. At one point, the veteran soldiers even refuse to learn their names until they've survived four weeks in combat.
  • Narrator: Wilhelm.
  • Nazi Protagonist: Several of the main characters are Wehrmacht soldiers and engage in war crimes. However, none are members of the Nazi Party, and one of them is a Jew who is eventually forced to hide from the regime.
  • New Meat: Fresh-from-bootcamp replacements are posted to Wilhelm and Friedhelm's unit on several occasions. At the end, Friedhelm leads a squad that, aside from himself and one man old enough to be a World War I veteran, consists entirely of teenaged boys who have never seen combat.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Wilhelm tells a superior officer that partisan activity has increased, and the officer drily replies "Thanks to our far-sighted policy of treating these people as inferiors."
  • Noble Demon: Wilhelm is pretty much okay with fighting an aggressive war of conquest and territorial expansion, and Captain Feigl has little difficulty convincing him to shoot Russian POWs, but on the other hand he's never pointlessly cruel, frequently goes into battle ahead of his men, and is genuinely horrified and outraged when Hiemer kills a Jewish child in front of him.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Seeing as this is set in fascist Nazi Germany, it's not surprising.
    • Viktor is outed as a Jew and expelled from the Polish resistance because he rescues Jews on a train car being shipped to a concentration camp. Subverted in that being kicked out meant he was spared the German ambush that happened moments later
    • Lilija helps Charlotte at the military hospital with her expertise, but gets reported as a Jew and taken away.
    • Averted when Wilhelm refuses to torch a peasant couple's home. Orders come by telegraph just in time decreeing that no more houses may be burned, since it reveals the Germans are retreating.
    • Charlotte took time out in the evacuating process to find Sonja. Other Germans left without her.
  • Nurse with Good Intentions: Sweet Charlotte practically has good intentions streaming out of her ears, but she has little technical expertise and is at first so shaken by the carnage of the front line that she finds it difficult to follow simple instructions. Later on she gets so desensitized to the violence that it's Greta who reacts with horror to the carnage around her when she visits Charlotte during her tour.
  • Opening Narration: Wilhelm provides one at the beginning of each episode.
  • Parental Favoritism: Both Winter parents indulge in this. Wilhelm is clearly his stern father's favorite, while younger Friedhelm is doted upon by his mother, who makes Wilhelm swear to bring his little brother back safely. When Friedhelm returns for sick leave after a battle in which Wilhelm is believed to have died, their father barely conceals his wish that Friedhelm had died instead. He thus returns to the front despite his mother's tearful plea.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • When Wilhelm goes AWOL after a mental breakdown during a pointless battle, he retreats to an abandoned Russian cabin and spends his time catching fish and sitting around petting a cat.
    • SS-Sturmbannführer Hiemer makes a Ukrainian auxiliary cop let go of a Jewish girl when Wilhelm intervenes, then horribly subverts it by shooting her in the head.
  • Previously on…: The second and third parts have a brief recap with the title "Was bisher geschah" — "What happened before."
  • Rape as Backstory: Alina was repeatedly raped by the German farmer for whom she performed forced labour, giving birth to a girl who was taken away by him because he and his wife couldn't have children. When she decided to fight back against the farmer after he wanted to also father a son by her, she was immediately shipped off to Auschwitz.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Between them, the Russians and the Germans wreak all three.
  • Regretful Traitor: Turning Lilija over to the Gestapo haunts Charly until she discovers Lilija is alive, well, and leading a squad of Russians to the hospital.. She tries to atone for it by trying to save another Russian nurse, Sonja.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Polish Home Army is not portrayed as very heroic. Aside from Aline the others are openly antisemitic, leaving Jews bound for the concentration camp in a cattle car to die after they raid a German train. Viktor rescues them, revealing he's Jewish, and they want him killed for it. Their leader has warmed up a bit to him though by this point. Instead of killing Viktor, he fakes it and lets him go, with a good luck wish. These depictions caused protest by Poles.note 
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Friedhelm snaps and mows down almost a dozen Russians when Wilhelm is apparently killed by one of them.
  • Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse!: Seems to be the reasoning behind many of the soldiers' abandonment of their personal ideals when faced with the relentless carnage of the war.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: Averted. When the friends (minus Viktor) are reunited during Greta's singing tour, they attempt this, but simply cannot shut out the horrors about them, and return to their respective posts fairly quickly.
  • Secret Police: The Gestapo break up the protagonists' party at the beginning of the series. SS and Gestapo officers go on to play significant roles in most of the protagonists' lives, particularly Friedhelm, who is posted under one for much of the series, and Greta, who sleeps with a Gestapo officer but is still ultimately arrested and shot.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Greta refuses to provide testimony that Dorn helped Viktor escape Germany, which will serve as his "Get Out of Jail Free" Card, and as a result, he has her executed for treason. However, he escapes justice regardless and ends up working for the Allied administration.
    • The order to capture the telegraph station cost nearly all of Wilhelm's squad, and when Friedhelm finally reaches it via his Roaring Rampage of Revenge above, he enters a Heroic BSoD to find out that all that sacrifice was done for just one broken room.
  • Sex for Solace: When combat nurse Charlotte believes that her longtime friend and secret love Wilhelm has died in battle, she throws herself at her medical superior for comfort.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Charlotte attempts to locate her friend Sonja before the hospital evacuation, but they both get stranded as the Russians descend on them. They shoot Sonja anyway for collaborating with the Germans as a nurse.
    • Greta breaks up with Viktor and sleeps with Dorn in order to get him passage to America. The Gestapo arrest him before he can leave the country, rendering Greta's efforts useless.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Greta is this for Viktor. His parents are less than amused - mostly because they fear him falling foul of the law (having sex with an "Aryan" was punishable by death for Jews in the Nazi era).
  • Shot at Dawn: Greta.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Many to Band of Brothers. For example, Wilhelm gives a Russian POW One Last Smoke before he shoots them (though we actually see the execution this time around).
    • And the protagonist's name is Wilhelm Winter, like, you know...Dick Winters.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Many of the soldiers. Contrast their attitude to shooting suspected partisans (very likely innocent civilians) in 1943 as opposed to their generally more upstanding conduct in 1941.
  • Snowball Fight: Brothers Friedhelm and Wilhelm, both Wehrmacht soldiers, engage in a snow fight on a quiet Christmas Eve at the Russian front, reminding them that they thought the war would soon be over so they could be Home by Christmas.
  • Snow Means Death: General Winter indeed.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Greta's song Mein Kleines Herz note  is a tender, blithe love song, but the context gives it this. The effect is further demonstrated by showing how miserable her friends are in that moment: Wilhelm and Friedhelm are out in the winter cold, Charlotte is drinking away her guilt, and Viktor is detained in a cell.
  • The Squadette: Lilija commands a division of Russian soldiers during the takeover of the infirmary. Truth in Television, as the Red Army did in fact have many female soldiers, and even several all-female units.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Greta and Viktor as a gentile German and a Jew.
  • Suicide By Soldier: After the German surrender, Friedhelm, who has become something of a Death Seeker, convinces his fellow soldiers to lay down their arms and give themselves up by walking steadily towards the Russians and shooting the ground in front of them. He is shot, and his death delivers the desired message.
  • Taking You with Me: Greta refuses to testify that Dorn helped Viktor secure papers to emigrate to safety, even at the cost of her life. Subverted when Dorn goes unpunished.
  • To Absent Friends: In the end Wilhelm, Viktor, and Charlotte reunite in a bar in the bombed Berlin, all scarred by their experiences and raise a toast to the memories of Friedhelm and Greta.
  • Token Minority: Viktor is the only Jew between the friends.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Finding himself surrounded by the Soviets after a battle, Friedhelm dons a dead Russian's uniform to pass through them and sneak back to German positions. In his stupor, he forgets to remove the uniform as he passes through friendly lines, and predictably gets shot in the chest by his own squadmate. Luckily for him, he's rushed to a field hospital in time.
  • Unfriendly Fire:
    • Sturmbannführer Hiemer tries to coax Friedhelm into shooting Viktor in the same way he got him to shoot the Polish boy. Turns out it doesn't work the second time.
    • When Friedhelm tries to return to friendly lines after having gone missing in action he is non-fatally shot by his comrades because he was disguised in a Soviet uniform.
    • The brutal sergeant in the punishment battalion eventually gets stabbed by one of his own men.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Hiemer has a short but powerful one in the few minutes between when Friedhelm shoots him and he bleeds out. He spends the whole time staring at Friedhelm in utter disbelief, seemingly not comprehending why the man he thought was an unquestionably loyal tool would suddenly turn on him.
  • Verbal Tic: Bartel has a noticeable stutter.
  • War Is Hell: The message of the entire series.
  • Where Are They Now: The final scene in the third episode lets us know the birth and death dates for each of the main characters. Wilhelm is the only one who is apparently still alive as of the present day.
  • Would Hurt a Child: SS-Sturmbannführer Hiemer. And eventually, Friedhelm, albeit reluctantly.

Alternative Title(s): Unsere Mutter Unsere Vater, Generation War