The Unknown Soldier

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History Documentary hosted by none available, published by Sentana Film in 2006 - English narration

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Image: The-Unknown-Soldier-Cover.jpg

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"The Unknown Soldier," a documentary by Michael Verhoeven, takes on one of the comforting myths of postwar Germany: the idea that ordinary German soldiers were for the most part unaware of and uninvolved in the worst crimes of the Nazi regime. In a version of history held by many Germans, the SS and other specialized organizations conceived and carried out policies of extermination against civilians, while the Wehrmacht rank and file went about the usual business of fighting the enemy. It was thus possible, after the war, to commemorate the service of fathers and grandfathers, and even to treat them with a measure of sentimental reverence, without condoning the atrocities of the Third Reich. An exhibit that opened in Munich in 1997 explicitly challenged this view of history, and the controversy it provoked is the subject of Mr. Verhoeven’s film. Though his sympathies are clearly with the historians and curators who presented the German public with documentary and photographic evidence showing the extent of Wehrmacht participation in mass killings, Mr. Verhoeven allows all sides of the debate to be heard. Except, that is, for the far-right nationalist protesters whose leaders impose a gag rule, answering questions only with assertions that "the press lies". Listening to some Wehrmacht veterans defend themselves, he catches the familiar evasions of whitewashing and denial, as individuals trying to wriggle off the hook of culpability end up making excuses for Hitler as well. The reckoning with the past, which has occupied West German society since the 1960s, has been painful and divisive, which makes the calm, empirical spirit of this film all the more impressive. Mr. Verhoeven has visited its themes before: in his 1990 film, "The Nasty Girl," based on the true story of a young woman who challenged her hometown’s evasion of its wartime history. “The Unknown Soldier” is dense with detail and thick with painstaking interpretations, and it may be hard going for viewers not already familiar with the German intellectual scene. The film is a succession of talking-head interviews, and without some narration it is hard to understand the context of their arguments. The content, however, is clear enough, and the evidence of Wehrmacht atrocities is both chilling and fascinating. The thoroughness with which “The Unknown Soldier” expunges the last traces of innocence from the citizens of the Third Reich may inspire some sympathy for those who came after. In this country, after all, we are accustomed to looking back admiringly on the achievements of the Greatest Generation. Germans, in contrast, must grapple with the legacy of their worst.

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[edit] Technical Specs

  • Duration: 1h 36s
  • File size: 798 MB
  • Container: AVI
  • Width: 672 pixels
  • Height: 384 pixels
  • Display aspect ratio: 16:9
  • Bit rate: 1151 kbs
  • Frame rate: 29.970 fps
  • Audio Codec: MP3
  • Channel(s): 2 channels
  • Sampling rate: 48.0 KHz
  • Credit goes to: netphys

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