Claiming the Second World War and Its Lost Generation: Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter and the Politics of Emotion

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When the ZDF miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter aired in March 2013, promoters and critics heralded it as the German television event of the year. Beginning in 1941, before the invasion of the Soviet Union, the miniseries relays the story of five friends, all in their early twenties - two Wehrmacht soldiers (Wilhelm and Friedhelm), one singer (Greta), one newly charged front nurse (Charlotte), and one Jew (Viktor) - who promise on the eve of different deployments to reunite in Berlin when the war is over, "bis Weihnachten." In the course of three installments and 270 minutes, the miniseries graphically depicts the horrors of the eastern front, a conquest that was neither swift nor successful, and the emotional and moral devastation of its protagonists. The miniseries concludes in 1945 with the promised reunion, albeit under circumstances far from those once imagined. Its promotional campaign credits the film with introducing a new phase in processing the collective trauma Germans incurred through their experiences in the Second World War: namely, by bringing to life the war generation, full of youth, hopes, and dreams, it facilitates an intergenerational dialogue to break the "silence" on family involvement in war crimes and National Socialism and on the trauma incurred by soldiers (Hempel, "Fernsehereignis"; on cultural trauma, see Alexander, on collective silence, see Giesen; Heimannsberg and Schmidt). Drawing on average more than seven million viewers per episode, the media event clearly struck a nerve in the German psyche, begging the question to what extent hype and fact indeed converge. [excerpt]



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