Polish court demands apology from German ZDF broadcaster over WWII miniseries | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 26.03.2021

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Polish court demands apology from German ZDF broadcaster over WWII miniseries

The German public broadcaster's TV series "Generation War" has been ruled to have wrongly portrayed Polish resistance fighters as anti-Semitic.  

Film still from Our mothers, Our Fathers showing two young soldiers pose in front of ruins

A film still from the miniseries highlights the devastation of World War II

The TV series Generation War is causing a diplomatic spat between Germany and Poland. Also known by the title Our Mothers, Our Fathers, as translated from the original German title, the series was originally commissioned by German public broadcaster ZDF and produced by UFA Fiction.  

The critically acclaimed war drama chronicled the lives and war experiences of five German friends in their early twenties from 1941 to 1945. One of the five fictional characters, who is Jewish, manages to escape being taken to Auschwitz, and joins the Polish partisan movement known as the Polish Home Army or Armia Krajowa (AK for short).

However, he keeps his Jewish identity under wraps due to widespread reports of anti-Semitism within the group. And this is where many people in Poland started to take offense. 

Four soldiers, three kneeling, with weapons in 1944

AK soldiers fought against German occupation for 63 days during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944

AK soldiers portrayed as anti-Semites 

In one controversial scene in the three-part miniseries, an AK member is seen abandoning a trainload of concentration camp prisoners to be sent to their deaths, saying, "they are Jews, and they are worse than the communists." 

Some people reacted with outrage to this scene in particular. As a former member of the AK who himself had managed to cheat death at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, Polish war veteran Zbigniew Radlowski alleged that the film deliberately falsified history, and aimed to "shift at least some of the responsibility for the Holocaust over to the Poles."  

This prompted the then 92-year-old AK veteran to initiate civil proceedings against ZDF and UFA Fiction in 2016 for violating his personal rights.  

 Zbigniew Radlowski

Zbigniew Radlowski, veteran of the Armia Krajowa, the Polish National Army, seen in 2018

"I lived through the German occupation of Warsaw, the Warsaw Rising, a prison camp. No ZDF program and no German court can falsify the truth about who was the victim and who was the oppressor, who was the criminal and who was the hero," Radlowski said then. 

A case of artistic freedom? 

Following a 2018 ruling against it, ZDF appealed, saying that "the portrayal of the Polish characters in no way constituted a minimization of historical fact nor of Germany's responsibility." 

The Court of Appeal in Krakow ruled on March 23 after years of litigation that the series portrayed resistance soldiers wearing white and red AK armbands as having "an aversion to Jews, displaying indifference to their lot, and being imbued with an anti-Semitic attitude."  The court ultimately found that the principle of freedom of expression had been abused to change perceptions about the AK.

As part of the ruling, ZDF and UFA Fiction have been asked to issue a public apology to the World Union of Home Army Soldiers, saying that the series made the "illegitimate suggestion that this Polish military organization was anti-Semitic in nature." 

"This is what we most cared about," Monika Brzozowska-Pasieka, who represented Radlowski and the veterans' organization, told Polish media.  

ZDF and UFA Fiction have both released statements saying that they regretted that the court had not paid sufficient attention to their artistic freedom, and said that they intend to appeal the decision once the judgment is issued in writing.  

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