Two remarkable films

Courtesy of Netflix (which in context means courtesy of my brother, whose gift the subscription to Netflix was), I have just seen two extraordinary films. One, “Land of Mine,” is a drama. The other “Under Fire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro, ” is a documentary.

In both cases, moving isn’t the word for it. They are true experiences, that will not leave you unchanged.

“Land of Mine” uses fiction to tell the story of some of the young German POW’s in Denmark who, in 1954, were assigned the extremely dangerous task of removing the two million mines the German army buried on Denmark’s west coast against a possible Allied invasion. (More than half those who were assigned the task were killed or injured, the film says.) But the story is not so much about the hair-raising task itself as about the legacy of hatred that five years of occupation had left in the hearts of the Danish people, and the beginnings of reawakening to the humanity of the other side.

Hemingway pointed out in For Whom the Bell Tolls that war rarely kills the ones who deserve killing — the fascists who plan the wars, who commit the atrocities, who direct the terror. Instead, it tends to kill innocent young boys caught up in the army, often against their will. That’s the subtext here, that and the struggle between hatred and decency in the victims of so much entirely unmerited horror.

Tony Vaccaro was a combat soldier who took photos throughout the nine months he spent at war, from Normandy to the Elbe. He became a professional after the war, but his shots during the war were not amateur Kodak moments. He set our to make an honest record, then couldn’t bear to look at his negatives for decades. The thing that makes this documentary extraordinary is that it blends his photography on 1944 and 1945 with modern footage, and with commentary from (and footage of) the old man he has become, as long as commentary from various Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalists.

Professional rah-rah patriots probably won’t like either of these films, but real people will.

6 thoughts on “Two remarkable films

  1. So it happened again! 🙁 My sense of history took a hit to the bow.

    When I read what you wrote about the film about German POWs in Denmark, I thought, “NO!” I’ve seen film clips in movie theaters and on TV showing how all the German soldiers trotted back home after the Germans capitulated on May 4th 1945, at a time when both my parents were in Sweden. My father had come back from the concentration camp Neuengamme on the white buses organised by Count Bernadotte, and my mother had fled to Sweden earlier in the year. They had both been active in the resistance against the Nazis, and a young man from their group had informed the Gestapo and so my father was arrested and sent to the Gestapo headquarters. He was “lucky” not to be there when the RAF bombed the place on March 21 as all the prisoners were placed as hostages up under the roof. He was already in a German camp then.

    My “Danish history” consists of all the stories and pictures I’ve heard and seen through my parents and Danish media. Several times during my life I have been shocked to learn of brutalities perpetrated against the Germans by us and our allies.

    The first time I had to revise my Danish history was when I taught Danish literature in high school. A novel gave a new picture, at least to me, of how some Danes in the resistance behaved after the liberation and people informed on and punished neighbours they bore grudges against etc. Not the hero images I was used to.

    The second time was only a few years back when I did a search on the internet and stumbled upon a university thesis dealing with a German refugee camp near Copenhagen, where thousands of children died because they weren’t fed or looked after properly. 7,000 children died! Danes didn’t have much food and apparently these poor East German refugees fleeing the horrors of war weren’t considered worthy of decent assistance. Shameful! But I never heard about such a camp! The high school where I worked for 30 years was situated a few miles away — the location where the camp was is actually close to the now famous free city of Christiania. Many of my colleagues that I had lunch with every day were history teachers with long university educations behind them, and we discussed many interesting things, but never once was this subject mentioned.

    And now this! After reading your post I googled the subject, and sure thing, in 1946, the year both you and I were born, Frank, 2,000 German soldiers, not POWs, mind you, but teenage soldiers just 15-20 years old, were ordered to go from Germany to the west coast of Denmark where the Germans had fortified their positions during their occupation of Denmark to prevent British invasions! 300 young men died and 500 were wounded digging out mines from under the sand. The Danish and German film titles are actually “Under the Sand”.

    I knew that we have never had German POWs in my country. But I never heard of this!

    It reminds me of when I first became aware of the allied bombing of Dresden and the following fire storm there, when in the 80s I taught an English class on the novel “Slaughterhouse 5” by Kurt Vonnegut, a brilliant work of fiction, not at all so fictitious, so I now have my eyes opened to even more necessary revisions of my idea of the history of WWII.

    History is really written by the victors of war. And works of fiction seem to tell true history better than history books.

    Because my family suffered during the war, and also after the war when nobody knew of or talked of PTSD and we just had to live with the consequences of the German camps on my father’s mental and physical health, I was focused on the resistance side of the whole thing. The freedom fighters of the resistance were not treated so well by their compatriots that they had helped survive the occupation. Only late in the war did the allied forces become aware that Denmark had not totally sided with the Nazis, just because the government ordered collaboration – and that was due to the resistance and their sabotage of German supplies and factories they had commandeered. And former concentration camp prisoners like my dad kept suffering and dreaming about dead camp buddies calling to them for the rest of their lives. The now familiar story of vets everywhere. And everywhere left mostly alone and not receiving the recognition they deserve.

    That makes for an unbalanced focus in their surroundings, too, as their families see themselves as unjustly treated victims.

    I’m ashamed of learning new sides to my country. I married an American over 20 years ago and he is being told constantly how Danes invented this and that and how marvelous a small country like ours is to have so many old and great achievements to boast of.
    We are all one, and none of us is any better than the rest of us. As we grow up we are educated,and as we grow old, we shed that education to see a different picture revealed. I hope I won’t live to a hundred, but who knows what revelations may come to me if I do? I shudder and smile at the thought 🙂

    I grew up in the shadow of a war that wasn’t mine, but felt like mine. Will it ever stop?

    And now I should watch the movie of course, but my reluctance is enormous. I’ll make an attempt at least. I guess I owe that to myself, if not to others.

    1. Dear Christel, I am so proud to have you and Inger Lise as friends. Both of your comments today show again (as if we needed to be shown again) what a humane and decent civilization Scandinavia has created. (Not bad, given that you started off as Viking pirates!)

      If I were young and knew what I know now, I would be strongly tempted to write a history in which the main antagonists were not nations, not individuals, but forces: Hatred, say. Revenge. Self-righteousness. Compassion. Etc. etc. That’s what’s really going on, only we in 3D tend to blame the individuals and groups and societies and nations through which the bad things express, rather than seeing even the villains as expressing rather than originating evil.

      FWIW, Americans know well what you’re feeling at the moment. I too was affected by Slaughterhouse 5 (and by Catch-22, as well). I too have had to continually readjust my idealistic vision of the America that was, not only the America that is, realizing that reality is always messy and conflicted. But if we’re not always the ones wearing the white hats, at least we can determine to do so from now on, if only as individuals. As Bob Monroe used to say, You do the best you can.

    2. Hi Christel.

      Denmark has always been more “international-minded” than Norway. And Denmark being Neighbour (common borders) with Germany. And Denmark do not have the same Wilderness of the landscape as to be hiding behind, as the Norwegian population could do. All the many areas possible to be hiding here in this country… The terrain very good for the guerilla- attacks (the only way of warfare with few inhabitants)….. among the hills and the valleys. One Norwegian resistance-group said if they could manage to allure / tempt a troop of German soldiers into a narrow valley or into the forest… THEN, nobody of the German soldiers came out aiive from the ambush. But it that happened only in the beginning of the war…Later on the Germans learned NOT to become tempted to follow after “the terrorists”/-the resistance group into the forest or into narrow valleys.

      Nowadays modern weapons find you everywhere… nowhere to hide anymore. They will find you at night too. Not to mention the biological warfare and A-bombs.

      Peculiarly enough, Norwegians did not feel the same hatred of German soldiers as elsewhere. The 350.000 German soldiers were very disciplined and THEIR GERMAN OFFICERS TOLD THE NORWEGIAN POPULATION TO BE THE SAME IN MAY 1945. The surrendering German troops did it in peace and quietness in Oslo. And according to “German Officers the same discipline and the attitude held the Norwegian Population amongst them. The Englishmen and some American troops CAME AFTER the The German troops surrendering in Norway the 8th of May.
      BUT on the other hand the hatred outpoured at the Norwegian Nazis and Collaborators… Not to mention the girls & women who had German soldiers as “Lovers” Some became married with the German soldiers.
      We KNEW of course how bad many of their children became treated after the war. BUT NOT EVERYWHERE IN THE COUNTRY here with us.
      I have FOUR friends who have a German soldier as a father (they were born 1945/46), and my 4 friends telling me THEY never to have experienced to become treated as “the enemy-children.” You could not hiding ANYTHING among a population of only 3,5 millions LOCALLY, spread all over the country, back then.
      And the Germans knowing us, as they learned to know the Norwegian population during the 5 years of staying here. The German soldiers whom staying in the same local area (among the SMALL LOCAL communities through the years) became “familiar” with the surroundings and the peoples. And every RUMOUR of seeing ” a stranger” passing by soon became known to the German Military-Camp in the same location (the resistance-movement said they had to stay away from local small villages at daytime… and waiting for the nights in passing by the area).

      Okay, it`s history….Wonder about the paralell worlds ?
      And Christel ? The history of the Nordic Countries are so very much intertwined that you cannot tell the history of Denmark without telling the history of Norway too (or Sweden – or Finland – or Iceland)….Hm, adding the British isles, and Brittany, and Normandy in France…The settlements by the Vikings.

      And thank you very much indeed Frank. I`m happy in becoming a friend with you likewise. I`m CONVINCED nothing happens by chance.

      LOL, Inger Lise

  2. Hello Frank.

    The same documentary has been shown on the Scandinavian TV-Channels. And yes, it is moving to see. Many documentaries of what happened during (and after) the war in Denmark and Norway have been shown on TV and movies through the years, all of them revealing many “hidden secrets.”

    But it is necessary to take into account how much the peoples in Scandinavia really KNEW about the outside world back then. The ordinary and the common inhabitants(at least in Norway) did NOT knew much about other countries than their own small location…
    Their THOUGHTS were all different than ours today.

    Here the other day an old Norwegian- Jewish lady was interviewed on a TV-program directly on stage. She was 12 years old back in 1943/44, when the Nazi regime in Norway hunting the Jews for the transportation by a ship named “Donau”, from a harbour in Oslo. Approximately 500 Norwegian Jews (people of all ages)were transported to the Concentration Camps in Germany. Only 9 of them came back home.

    But this 87 old Norwegian-Jewish lady (12 years old back then), clearly recalled how her family survived because some of the Norwegian Nazi-Police came to tell them to pack their suitcases for travel to Germany.
    And here comes some of the peculiar things that happened to several other Jewish families likewise…The two Nazi-Norwegian-Policemen left the apartment and told the family they would be back soon to pick them up. They came back – BUT FOUR HOURS later.
    On TV- the old lady said her mother then gave the 12 year old daughter packing her bags “before their travel to Germany. Their Father had ALREADY “gone into cover” somewhere, according to the old lady, another place outside of town.
    Well, after waiting a LONG TIME, the two Norwegian-Nazi Policemen came back for them – AFTER FOUR HOURS picking them up with A CIVILIAN CAB, with A civilian Taxi-Driver … waiting on the street.
    The two Policemen ordered the cab-driver to drive them to the harbour where the ship “Donau” was about to leave the Harbour…. They arrived too late – it was TOO LATE.
    The ship were about to leave, and obviously the German Guards there did not want the TROUBLE of calling back the ship, and therefore gave the Taxi/Cab-driver order to drive the family BACK HOME AGAIN, and with the very same cab.
    The family went back to the same apartment and stayed the overnight there, without anything more happening.
    But the next morning, the mother thought she ought to ask somebody what to do…. And she went over to the Grocery Store (upon the other side of the same street, where they used to go for the dairies), asking “the milk-lady”, the owner of the Grocery Store of what to do next.
    And “the Milk-lady” said she had some free rooms for them to stay in (across the same street where they lived). Okay, and so they moved over to the opposite side of the same street. And they lived there for about four days, without anything else happening. Until the milk-lady said she had become afraid of some collaborators living in their neighbourhood had told about death sentences for peoples hiding Jews, and therefore they had to go and find some other place to stay.

    And then another nice lady coming along, and gave them shelter for a while (everybody KNEW they were Jews in the streets). The other lady said they could come and stay in her place to live – only a couple of blocks further down the same Quarter…..!!!! Hm, nowadays you cannot BELIEVE IN IT HOW TO BECOME AS STUPID as back then !!!
    But the now 87 year old lady told NOBODY could ever IMAGINE what`s “going on” in the Concentration-Camps….As the old lady told; “we had absolutely NO IDEA.”

    Well, it ending up with the whole family fled to Sweden together with several other refugees, and survived the war. Their father fled to Sweden likewise. And in 1945 when the family moving back to Norway got their own apartment back.

    The old lady told when she went to see a movie in 1945 (she was then 15 years old), the fore-film showed a documentary from the Concentration camps – and she could NOT believe in her own eyes. The pictures became forever imprinted upon he mind, and gave the nightmares several years afterwards,

    As she told the TV-Crew: “Back then we COULD NOT IMAGINE anything like it, because in Norway, ALL OF US, were protected. NOBODY ever gave us Jews an impression of NOT BEING NATIVE NORWEGIANS. She said it was IMPOSSIBLE for the ordinary Norwegian inhabitants TO IMAGINE the reality of what the Concentration-Camps did to us. We were for the most part all INNOCENT about the outer world….

    No Internet back then, and many did not have the Radio either.
    The newspapers: Yes, of course…But they were censored during the occupation….And BEFORE the occupation, FEW know about them….People could simply NOT fathom the existence of such cruelty.

    When experiencing battles and the cruelty of war…. it was the NORTHREN PART of Norway whom experienced “The REAL WAR.”
    Up there the Norwegians and the Allies (English, Polish and French troops among them) fought for TWO months (and they could have won) until Sweden let the German troops use their Railways and fell the allies in ambush, and Churchill got into trouble with his English troops in Dunkirk, in France…. All resources to rescue the English troops left behind there.

    In December/January 1944 – 1945, the German troops had to withdraw their troops from NORTHERN NORWAY, and they burned down every place and settlements everywhere, small villages and bigger towns and cities on their way back, the withdrawal back down south …. Estimated to be 350.000 German soldiers left in Norway, in !945….Among a population of 3,5 millions.
    In the winter 1944/1945 the German troops fled from Finland AND RUSSIA over the border to Norway with the Russian troops on their heels.
    And here comes what most of the world do not know about. The Russians freeing the Northern part of Norway – Actually, the Russian Troops behaved as GENTLEMEN to the Norwegian population up north. The Norwegians left were hiding everywhere in the wilderness – they were hiding in caves and snow-holes and what not to find, as everything had been burnt down.
    And short of food of course, as it was still wintertime. But the Russian soldiers sharing what they had with them of theirs, even they had short of food. And gave to the civilians what they had of meals themselves.
    No harm was done by the Russian soldiers to the Norwegian population, only GOODNESS by the soldiers.
    Afterwards the Russian troops LEFT THE UPPER PART OF NORWAY VOLUNTARILY (and for good). The matter of fact is: The Russian troops liberated Northern part of Norway.
    And another historic perspective with Russia as a neighbour to us up North: The matter of fact Norway is the only country whom NOT has been at war with Russia in a THOUSAND YEARS, not since the Vikings …. And upon the Norwegian Island SVALBARD….up in the “North-Pole-area” – In The Arctic, both Russia and Norway to have worked upon the same territory, almost side-by-side, both the countries on Svalbard, for approximately 150 years with the minings – also the same during “The Cold War.”

    P.S. Putin “knowing” his neighbour very well. Here with us, some weeks ago, Putin gave a public reprimand to the Norwegian politicians for “becoming” too much “Americanized,” and forgetting about Norway’s own supremacy as a nation (as to have done of old). Obviously Putin to know about the Norwegian history.
    Hm, well, our neighbour is the big BEAR and Norway the small Mice trying to roar at the Big Bear. And Puting knowing it of course.
    But obviously our dear comrade Putin is warning us with placing the NATO Troops along the border between us.
    Oh well:
    Shake. Rattle and Roll….Especially with North-Korea on the other hand (and there is another one in charge overseas, often to hear about, who I am not willing to mention just now).
    Wonder if the history is to repeat itself ?

    But, accordig to Seth: “Nobody but us to decide what to do with our lives.”

    IGNORANCE was the main-trouble all over the country.

      1. Frank ? Thank you.
        BUT, I have come to see HOW MUCH I am to search for A INNER ANSWER – WHY the humans to create “the evil things” against each others…I have SEARCHED for that “explanation” all the time in many instances nowadays, and to have forgotten what Paramahansa Yogananda told in his teachings.
        AND:
        THIS VERY MORNING when TO TRY to find a book in my book-shelf – got my eyes upon Paramahansa Yogananda`s one big volume(volume I, titled: The Second Coming of Christ, subtitle – The Resurrection of The Christ Within You.
        As usual opening up the book AT RANDOM, and my eyes fell upon The Dscourse 8, Matthew 4:5 – 11, on the pages 178- 179 (Luke 4:13).
        And Quote Yogananda:
        ” There was a time when I belived Satan was a symbolic force, a methaphysical delusion; but now I know and add my testimony to the testimony of Jesus Christ that Satan is responsble for all the creation of
        evil on earth and in the MINDS of men. I have consciously seen Satan many times obstructing me by mysterious misfortunes, and by consciosly taking materialized FORMS while I was receiving the Grace of God.

        On one occassion I was beholding the face of Christ, and just as he passed out of my vision ai saw the evil FORCE too as Satan. It was a terrific vision: Those two FORCES passed thrgh my BODY, one of them the Universal Christ-joy(happiness) and peace, the other the GREAT COSMIC DELUSION. The Evil Force didn`t touch me, only tried to frighten me. As one goes into the Spirit he sees those two forces distinctly; but when I reached the highest SAMADHI (underlined) I found there is nothing else but God. But before that realization is reached, that Cosmic Dichotomy will not yield its illusory reality as two forces, the power of evil and the power of Christ, the power of Satan and the power of God.”

        Underlined in the book: ” IN THE HIGHEST SAMADHI; “THE DEVIL” OF DELUSIVE DUALITIES DEPARTS FROM MAN`S CONSCIOSNESS.”

        When the Psychological Satan had finished tempting Jesus, the delsion of memories of mortal habit departed, for a time at least, giving raise to the feeling of victory for the permanent habit of spiritual consciousness. The Gospel according to St. Luke notes: ” And when the devil had ended all temptation, he departed from him for a season.” The departing of Satan “for a season” signifies the transcendental state of fixed self-mastery, when the devotee rises above duality and its compulsory struggle with evil.
        Every master who has attained the realization of the state of NIRVIKALPA SAMADHI (underlined) feels the obsession of IGNORANCE withi him gone.
        With the disappearance of the mindset of IGNORANCE that sees everything in terms of mortal consciousness, sublime changes occur within that advanced devotee, Under the influence of cosmic delusion, even sincerely aspiring devotees behold matter as matter, and see the dualities of good and evil and the relativity of consciousness, which reveals matter as different forms of solids, liquids, gaseous, and astral substances. But when the influence of Satan is completely terminated, the liberated devotee finds only the presence of the omnipresent, ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new blessed Spirit. All evil, all discrepancies of nature, disappear as forgotten shadows from the consciousness of the illuminated devotee.
        And continues:
        When Jesus in the wilderness was victorious in defeating the temptations of Satan, the mortal delusive habit disappeard, and the angels of Intuition, Calmness, Omniscience, and Self-Realzation appeard in the consciousness of Jesus to serve him with lasting Bliss.

        On page 178, quote:
        As a result of the choice Jesus made, he has eternal life in God`s Bliss. By emerging victorious from temptation, he is a shining example for all souls struggling to regain their divine sonhood.
        Why desire things that must be abadoned at death ?
        The great poet Saadi of Persia said: ” If thou dost conquer the world and bend all the people to thy will, what then ? You will one day have to leave it all.”

        Hm, I do believe in Paramahansa Yogananda, he was “pure at heart.”
        Seth is good, but Paramahansa is the best( at least to me).

        Ending quotes….

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