In the first episode of this documentary, rare German survivor Gerhard Dengler remembers seeing weather conditions take smoke from Luftwaffe bombing, in August 1943, and shape it into a gigantic black cross.
We down below thought it looked like a gravestone, a gravestone for Stalingrad. That it was the gravestone of the 6th Army, we had no idea.
The documentary was made by three German filmmakers, and converted to English by Australians, but the key part is interviews with participants — an officer on Hitler’s staff, a Central Asian sniper in the Red Army, a doctor in one of the hopeless field hospitals, a young girl whose family tried to hide from the war in the hole where their home once had been.
Stalingrad: The Assault
This is a hell of a thing to do to you on a week, work, day, hit you with a three-part, three-hour documentary, but this documentary is that good. It combines the documentary techniques of Ken Burns’s The Civil War with plentiful interviews with Wehrmacht, Red Army, and Russian civilian survivors. The Burnsian techniques are to use period found footage, and plenty of actor readings of soldiers’ letters home — mostly, given the loss of over a million men on both sides (and some women, on the Russian side), letters from soldiers who would never return home themselves, Russian and German alike.
Most everyone knows the general framework of the Battle of Stalingrad: at just over the one-year point in Hitler’s offensive in Russia, he pushed two army groups into south central Russia. One was aimed at a military and economic target: the oilfields of Baku, Azerbaijan, and Soviet Central Asia in general. The other was aimed at a political, prestige target: the city on the Volga, Europe’s greatest river. Named for one monstrous dictator, the battle over it was a contest of egos between two of them, with the riflemen on both sides mere pawns in the game. (In Russian, it’s explicit: the pawn in chess and the private in the Army are both ryadovoy).
Marshal Franz Halder warned Hitler that the attack was a waste: that he was setting the pieces up for a checkmate by the Russian defense’s strongest player, winter. Hitler took the warning with his usual lack of good grace, and fired Halder, belittling him as he went. Halder had no front-line experience; he was a mere desk soldier.
He was also right. Of the 600,000-man 6th Army, some 40,000 were evacuated, some 92,000 captured by the Soviets, most of whom were slain or worked or starved to death before the release or a mere 6,000 survivors in 1955. Against this, a half-million Russians were slain in this battle, and the fate of a Russian taken prisoner was even worse, however unimaginable that is, than that of his German counterpart. (Should he survive Nazi captivity, he returned home to the Gulag for ten years — some of the Germans beat some of their former enemies home).
The film above is Part 1: The Assault of the new documentary, The Battle of Stalingrad. It ends with the encirclement of the German force by a mighty Soviet assault. Two other episodes follow: The Pocket and The End.
Stalingrad: The Pocket
Much of today’s national psychology, both Russian defensiveness — this was a war they never asked for, fought on their own soil — and German pacifism, has its genesis in this unimaginable million-man-plus abbatoir.
Stalingrad: The End
The producers write:
The Eastern Front experienced the viciousness of war on a scale of unimaginable horror and brutality. The bloodiest and most savage fighting took place in Stalingrad between August 1942 and February 1943. Stalin’s city on the Volga had military significance for Hitler. It carried the name of his enemy and therefore had to be destroyed. The ensuing battle sealed the fates of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians and marked the turning point of World War II. It was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. In their 3 part 16:9 HDTV, documentary filmmakers Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorg Mullner reveal new historical facts while touching the emotions of their audience with new, moving eyewitness accounts and confessions from some of the last survivors.
Filmed from both the German and Russian perspective, the series contains footage shot by soldiers during the siege. The Russian archives opened their doors to the filmmakers, granting them exclusive access to previously unreleased material. The series also contains digitally restored archive film as well as 3-D animation to recreate the city of Stalingrad and plot the course of its destruction.
Both ex-German and Russian soldiers are interviewed, along with Russian civilians. It is said that a soldier only really experiences war in the 1000 feet that is around him. If that is true, then this film is a horrifying, moving, and amazing account of those 1000 feet. This is a bottom-up account of Stalingrad that illuminates the experiences of the common foot soldier, which is often a story not heard from the German side of things.
Must see. Since it’s just short of three hours, it will take some time. You may want to rathole this post for later.