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War brings out the worst in people

War brings out the worst in people

When art meets science

Who: Natasja van der Meer, lecturer of Foundations and methods of Law

TV series: Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter (ZDF, 2013)

It is June 1941. Five young friends say farewell to each other in Berlin. The brothers Wilhelm and Friedhelm leave with their Wehrmacht unit to go to the Eastern front, their friend Charlotte follows in the same direction as a nurse. Greta and Viktor (who is Jewish) remain in Berlin, the former to become a famous singer, the latter to take over his father’s sewing workshop. They promise to remain friends forever. They believe the war will be over in a few months and then they will meet up in their local pub again.

This is the beginning of the three-part German television series Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter. As everyone knows, things do not go as the friends predict. It takes more than four years before the Second World War is over. “I am very interested in history and especially this period, I have read a lot about the subject and seen films and series,” says Natasja van der Meer, deputy judge for the Limburg criminal court department and deputy co-ordinator for the Moot Court at the UM. “This is breath-taking and very credible, you can feel the tension, the fear and the desperation. You understand how the characters can at times be stuck and what war does to them. How they do things because that is all they can do. Even things that you shouldn’t possibly be able to understand, such as carrying out a summary execution, becomes credible from their position.”

According to Van der Meer, the strength of the series lies in the fact that the friends are very ordinary German youngsters. “You can easily identify with them. At the beginning of the war, they have loads of ideals, but at the end there is nothing left of them.”

The main lesson, according to Van der Meer, is that war brings out the worst in people. “The main characters are all heroes in their own way, but they have a bad side too. The brothers who are soldiers for example, try to help Jews, but also carry out executions without the blink of an eye. Charlotte takes care of the sick and wounded, but also betrays her Jewish colleague. They do things that they normally would not have done if there hadn’t been a war. When it comes down to kill or be killed, people will always choose themselves. That is what you see happening here.”

In this column lecturers recommend art that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do



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