A group of Russian soldiers fight to hold a strategic building in their devastated city against a ruthless German army, and in the process become deeply connected to two Russian women who have been living there.
During the 3 episodes a number of letters are read by the narrator and some actors in order to portray different soldiers and civilians from both sides. But in fact, all the excerpts came from letters of German soldiers. The nationality of some people who wrote the letters and sometimes even the gender had been changed. See more »
A very visceral documentary on the Battle of Stalingrad which marked a crucial turning point of World War II. It has interviews with several German, but less Soviet, participants.
There are three parts: the prelude where the Germans invade the city, the "Kessel" (cauldron), and the final surrender and its aftermath. This was a total and brutal war and we are provided with film and interview footage that substantiates this. Also much of what is said, is also found in the book "Enemy at the Gates" by William Craig (don't confuse this with the rather romantic movie version made a few years ago). For instance Craig's book also describes the part about German soldiers desperately hanging onto the wings of airplanes leaving the besieged city.
Some of the soldiers interviewed break down due to the overwhelming nature of the experience they endured. Post-traumatic stress disorder not only affects soldiers just returning from war– it is something that scars for life – most of these veterans were in their 70's and 80's. It was important to get these interviews – these participants are a non-renewable resource and their stories needed to be recorded for future generations to comprehend the horrible scope of this war.
Even though this is a German-made documentary, I was hoping for more interviews with Soviet participants. Admittedly there are some Soviet interviews and I would have liked more about how the civilian population of Stalingrad experienced the war. There is substantially more on German military tactics – for instance there is almost as much about the failed attempt by Manstein to relieve the beleaguered troops as there is about the Soviet encirclement. Also it is mentioned a few times during the documentary that of the 200,000 German troops taken prisoner in February, 1943 less than 10,000 returned after the war (many in the 1950's). It must never be forgotten that the German took prisoner over 5 million Soviet soldiers during the invasion that began in June, 1941. Of these, less than 10 percent survived – many starved to death from neglect. To the documentaries credit a few of the German soldiers state that they knew what to expect when they were to surrender to the Soviet troops, for they had seen first-hand what was happening in German occupied territory.
Regardless, this is a devastating documentary that shows the terrible truths of total war – it extinguishes any illusions about the "Glory of Battle". In the "World at War" documentary episode on Stalingrad a Russian comments: "These German soldiers are a funny lot with their shiny black boots attacking Stalingrad - did they think they were on a joy-ride?"
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