Ich war neunzehn (I was Nineteen) (1968)
Director: Konrad Wolf.
Starring: Jaecki Schwarz (Gregor Hecker), Vasili Livanov (Wadim), Aleksey Eybozhenko (Sascha), Galina Polskikh (Sowjetisches Mädchen), Rolf Hoppe (Etappenmajor), Wolfgang Greese (Landschaftsgestalter), Dieter Mann (Willi Lommer), Jenny Gröllmann (Deutsches Mädchen), Kalmursa Rachmanov (Dsingis), Anatoli Solovyov (Starschinka), Johannes Wieke (Festungskommandant), Mikhail Gluzskiy (General), Jürgen Hentsch (Adjutant), Kurt Böwe (Sturmbannführer), Klaus Manchen (Blinder Soldat).
a 19 year old teenager reaches the outskirts of Berlin with his Red Army scouting team
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A truck has overheated and has to be checked. The truck has a loud speaker and the message is broadcast: "Attention! German soldiers. The war is lost and you are in a hopeless position. Do not wait. Negotiate." A man hangs from a rope around his throat with a sign saying: "Deserter! I licked Russian boots." The gallows floats on a lake. The Russians now play music.
April 16, 1945. Now they give out some news from the front. The Red Army is advancing to the Oder River (that forms 116 miles of the border between Poland and Germany). It is only 150-200 km from Eisenhower and Montgomery at the Elbe River (that flows northwest passing through Dresden, Wittenberg, Magdeburg, Wittenberge and Hamburg).
The 19 year old Russian soldier, Lt. Gregor Hecker, says he was eight when his parents had to leave Germany for the Soviet Union. One of the broadcast messages is the Berlin is under artillery fire. He grew up in Moscow and his mother still lives there. He says although he broadcasts similar messages there are few deserters to the Russians. He shouts out in German for a German soldier to come out. He does so, but when he realizes he has been called out by a Russian soldier, he fights to kill the Russian. A comrade shoots the German soldier dead.
April 22, 1945. The Russian army brother though the front three days ago. They moved north past Berlin. They stop on a street in Bernau where there are many white flags handing from the buildings. Lt. Hecker is called to see the general, who asks him where he is from originally. Cologne, Germany. He gives the lieutenant Bernau. Now he is commandant of Bernau. The unit pulls out and Hecker yells to his friend Captain Vadim Haymann that he is commandant of the place. He goes over to a young girl and asks her where are the authorities. She only says that someone has committed suicide. Hecker goes into the apartment building and finds a woman who has killed herself using gas. He asks the girl why did the woman kill herself and she says they all should commit suicide. Hecker asks why, since Hitler is gone and the war is over. She asks him what should she do now? Stay or leave?
The mayor of the town with his wife offers Hecker his full support. Hecker only tells them that the house is being confiscated and they must leave. A reverend is their first visitor. He asks to hold a service for the people. Hecker want the local printer to print up a message for him. He tells the old man that he wants him to be the mayor. Apparently, the fellow had been involved with the German communists, but was never a party member.
The young girl Hecker met earlier comes to his office with her suitcase in hand and asks if she can sleep in the office. She trusts Hecker and is afraid of the other Russians. A female soldier is with Hecker and the girl asks if she is a real soldier. The female soldier gets angry and yells at the girl, telling her what terrible things the Germans did in her town. Of course, the German girl cannot understand the Russian soldier, but she understands that the woman is very angry. Hecker translates. The German girl becomes very upset and protests that she didn't do anything to anyone in Russia. She says it isn't her fault. And she says she also has no one to help her. What is she to do?
The Russian tanks roll through the streets of Brenau on their return trip through Germany. Hecker runs out and stops a Russian jeep asking why are the going back? The officer says who knows what's forwards or backwards any more? He tells Hecker he's lucky to be the commandant. The jeep moves out.
Hecker sleeps while a German broadcast says that the Hitler Youth are leading a counteroffensive. They are backed up by 60 year old veterans. A Russian soldier comes in. 1st Lt. Sasha Sikanyuk, and wakes Gregor. The soldier has brought breakfast for the commandant. Hecker grabs a sausage and out he goes. He gets in the back of the broadcast truck which is ready to pull out. That German girl shows up again just staring at Hecker. The truck pulls out.
April 23, 1945. Hecker has to set up a new headquarters. The check the suburbs for a good location. They open a door and find a bunch of German soldiers working away as if nothing has happened. The fellow in charge, a major, says they commute from Berlin and came in just like any other day. Hecker tells the man to clean out his desk. The major asks permission to telephone headquarters. Hecker lets him. The major explains that the Russians are here in his office, but the man on the other end of the line doesn't believe him. Hecker gets on the phone, but the man only asks him if he is drunk? Sikanyuk gets on the phone and curses out the man in Russian. The German hangs up and the Russians have a good laugh.
April 24, 1945. West of Berlin the Russian tanks head south. Hecker left for Sachsenhausen. The Russians execute a guard who had served at the concentration camp. The SS had moved the prisoners already. A Sachsenhausen executioner testifies saying for two years he worked in the crematorium and the gas chambers. He shows the Russians how he used gas set up. The victims were usually dead in ten seconds. The executioner says that the victims were mostly Russian. In adds that in September and October 1941 some 13,500 Russian prisoners were killed.
Hecker, Sikanyuk and Vadim interview an intelligent German who is a landscaper. He says that the Germans were always taught to obey order and fulfill their duties. And Hitler represented just an escalation of this basic trait; that he introduced "an artificially induced frenzy of obedience. . .. an explosion of sadism".
April 30, 1945. Berlin is encircled. Hecker gets a special mission in Spandau. He is one of two truce bearers, the other being Vadim Haymann, sent to speak to the Germans. Hecker carries the white flag. No one opens the door so Hecker has to bang on it. Col. Lewerenz, commandant, comes down from the second floor via a rope ladder thrown out a window. His adjutant also comes down. To prevent further bloodshed, the Russians want the Germans to surrender. The colonel tells them that he will have to confer with his fellow officers. He sends the adjutant inside again to find out the consensus of opinion. The adjutant returns and tells the colonel and the colonel tells the two truce bearers that the officers refuse to surrender. Haymann says he wants to talk to the officers personally. The colonel says he cannot guarantee their safety, but he may speak with the officers.
Haymann tells the officers that Berlin is surrounded. The Soviets and the American have met at the River Elbe. The war is over. Also surrounded is Spandau Fortress. A German asks them if they know where Wenck's army is? He has been pushed back south of Potsdam. The German officers have obviously been fed all kinds of lies about their situation, including the one about Germany and the Allies joining together against the Russians.
A German officer gives his own iron cross to a boy soldier who blew up a Russian tank with his bazooka. The adjutant talks to the officer, who is absolutely committed to fighting on. He thinks the colonel is weak and will sell them out.
The colonel tells the Russians that neither side will fire on the other. When Germany surrenders, they will surrender Spandau. Haymann tells him that the Russians will attack at 7 am tomorrow. They leave. The adjutant takes them a different way and the two Russians grow suspicious. The adjutant stops to eat. He say they must wait. Two men with automatic weapons arrive and the two Russians are blindfolded. They are taken down to the river. The men are let go. Three Germans with suitcases take off in a rubber boat for the other side of the river.
With five minutes to go, the Germans surrender.
May 1, 1945. Some fighting continued in Berlin, but for Hecker and his group the war was over. They drive down a main highway and have to weave back and forth to get around the destroyed vehicles. A German soldier calls out to Hecker. He has been blinded and wears a big bandage around his eyes and head. He thinks Hecker is a German and talks openly with him. His buddies left him behind. He still hopes that something will happen to stop the Russians.
Preparations are being made for a big celebration. Russian men and women dance outside while waiting. Sasha tells the German firemen band that Hitler is kaput and now they will eat and drink and play music. Hecker and a bunch of men make over 3,000 dumplings called pelmeni, which is something like ravioli. The top commander comes in to greet his officers at a long dinner table. He goes over to thank Haymann for Spandau. He brings in some concentration camps victims who were punished for resisting the fascists. The men are seated at the table.
One of the former inmates knows Hecker. He used to visit his family and him. The commander gives Hecker a glass and tells him it's his toast. He toasts to his mother. Hecker gets drunk.
One of the former inmates tells the Russians that they must wipe out all the fascists or it will all happen again in twenty years. The commander says through Haymann that he understands the man's feelings, but revenge is poor counsel. Haymann is a German teacher from Kiev. He asks one of the former inmates how did Hitler get control of Germany? The man says he was empowered by industrialist, big corporation and the German army.
On their first peacetime mission, Hecker and his unit went back to Spandau to support the garrison. Along the way, they drop off one of the inmates at a place where he will be the new mayor. They drop another former inmate off and get him a ride to take him to his destination. The next stop is by an artillery position. Suddenly, they are all attacked by Germans using Soviet tanks and uniforms. A brand new artillery officer fresh from school is killed. Hecker and the men in his truck get the hell out of there.
May 3, 1945. The previous night, 30,000 German soldiers who were encircled in Berlin managed to break out to the west. The Russian commander in the area tells his officers to show these Germans no mercy. Hecker and his team want to try and avoid the shedding of more blood, but the commander doesn't want them around. He wants to kill the Germans.
The truck moves out and they stop at a farm house to inquire about the Germans soldiers. While they walk around the farm, Sasha runs in to tell them that the Germans are coming. Hecker talks to the soldiers. He tells them that the war is over. Hitler is dead. They keep going. Two German soldiers surrender. A little later the farm fills up with German soldiers.
The farm family decides to keep a young boy with them at the farm. The boy agrees so they hide him in the barn. A high ranking German officer surrenders.
The guys think they can leave now. But all of a sudden three truckloads of SS men drive up and start shooting at the farm. The Russian return fire with the help of a German soldier. Some of the SS killed some of the Germans trying to surrender. Hecker suddenly realizes that Sasha is dead. He takes the microphone and starts shouting at the SS men as they disappear in the distance. He asks them why they can't stop shooting and murdering?
Hecker's truck moves out along with the Germans who surrendered.
Hecerk's last words are: "I am a German. I was 19."
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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