World War II on the Small Screen. German Apologia and Redemption Challenge European Narratives of War and Genocide

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Volker Benkert , School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Arizona State University
Overcoming the horrors of war and genocide is one of the foundations of the European Union. Yet, apologetic and redemptive tendencies in recent German TV series run counter to the European peace project, as they repeat German victim narratives of the post-war era. Even though the mini-series “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter” (2013) and “Tannbach” (2015) problematize the complicity of ordinary Germans, they wrap the responsibility of “our mothers and our fathers” into apologetic narratives that explain their deeds in reference to the seductive power of the regime and brutalization during the war. What is more, stereotypical SS villains serve as negative foils to showcase the protagonist’s humanity. Yet, the films also acquit their protagonists from anti-Semitism, sexual and autotelic violence, which would render them unacceptable to today’s viewers. While exculpating the protagonists the films portray Polish partisans as ardent anti-Semites and Soviet soldiers as rapists set on a path of wanton destruction. Furthermore, the films show that the protagonists redeem themselves through their belated self-liberation from the regime and their repentance, thus mirroring contemporary Germany’s hopes for redemption after having worked through the past. Yet, redemption is earned through the rejection of apologetic accounts and through working through the past in conjunction with the European partners.

The paper seeks to address several themes explored by the conference, as it describes memory practises of German media and looks at German and European responses to them. Furthermore, it investigates how apologetic and redemptive narratives emerging from these practises challenge a European identity.

  • Benkert, The Victim Loop. Apologia and Redemption in Recent German Film.pdf (229.6 kB)