When writer Stefan Kolditz conceived “Our Mothers, Our Fathers,” a miniseries about five German friends in their 20s during World War II, he knew one of the characters had to be Jewish.
“The center of this war, this German war, had a lot to do with erasing the Jewish race, not only in Germany but in all of Europe,” Kolditz said. “ You can’t talk about this war or German society in the ‘40’s without talking about the Jewish question in Germany. It’s impossible.”
The compelling miniseries, which is receiving a theatrical release in the U.S. under the title “Generation War,” follows the characters on their separate and occasionally overlapping journeys. Kolditz designed the five to represent the generation that, in his view, was physically and psychologically trained for Hitler’s war of annihilation and ambition.
Therefore, “Generation War” is a multilayered portrait of youthful idealism betrayed and destroyed by the fuhrer’s maniacal hatred of Jews and pointless sacrifice of his own soldiers on the eastern front.
“Generation War” opens as a two-part film Friday, March 14 at the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco,
It begins with an ad-hoc farewell party. The war has started and great changes lie ahead that the friends imagine will be only positive.
Wilhelm, the oldest of the group and a serious-minded army officer, will lead a regiment that includes his poetic younger brother Friedhelm. True believer and devout anti-Semite Charlotte becomes a nurse on the eastern front, while glamour-puss Greta remains in Berlin to pursue her ambitions as a singer.
Through an SS officer she “befriends,” Greta obtains a passport for her boyfriend, Viktor, who is Jewish. Instead of a train to France, however, Viktor finds himself on a transport to the camps. He will escape that fate and join a handful of Polish partisans fighting the Nazis in the forest.
Six months before filming began, Kolditz was told that the production was having trouble raising the entire budget and he needed to cut a character. Viktor was the one who had to go, he was informed, because his original path — through France to the U.S. and back to Europe on D-Day — was geographically complicated and expensive.
“If that happens, this thing is over,” Kolditz announced. “I’m out.”
Television is a writer’s medium, so his threat carried weight. His solution was to rewrite Viktor’s story and keep him geographically with the rest of the production.
The subplot involving the partisans sparked outrage when the miniseries aired in Poland, Kolditz related during a visit last fall to the Bay Area.
“I understand [why] they are very angry,” Kolditz, 57, said, “because the partisans fought the good war against the Germans. They were not responsible for this war, and they fought and died in large numbers, and I don’t want to discredit them. On the other hand, the truth is there were plenty of anti-Semites in their ranks. The movie doesn’t say that every Polish guy was an anti-Semite. But that was the reception in Poland. The first thing was to [say to] us Germans, ‘How can you dare point to us?’ ”
One might expect that the target audience for the series was Germans in their 20s. In fact, Nico Hofmann, one of Germany’s most prolific and important television producers, had something else in mind when he summoned Kolditz for a meeting in 2005 while they were collaborating on a TV movie about the bombardment of Dresden.
“He asked me, ‘Are you interested in writing a movie, or some movies, about the generation of our mothers and fathers? I want to make a movie to have the chance of a conversation and a dialogue with my father, who was an officer for the Wehrmacht in the war against the Soviet Union, before he dies, before he leaves me.’”
Though immediately interested, Kolditz had no such pressing issues. His father died in 1982. But he’d shared war stories with his teenage son. Some of those experiences make their way into “Generation War.”
“Generation War,” Part 1 and Part 2 (each with separate admission) opens Friday, March 14, at the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco. In German with English subtitles (279 minutes)