1990 Directed by Harriet Eder, Thomas Kufus.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 18, 1994
The feeling you get is like looking through a keyhole at something forbidden. You're fascinated but you're unable to get a clear field of vision because the physical restrictions of the keyhole aperture keep blocking your view. Mein Krieg (My Private War) is an extraordinary documentary consisting of film footage shot by six separate German Wehrmacht soldiers during WWII. These amateur filmmakers carried their home movie cameras to the front and in the process documented a little-seen aspect of war -- the personal experience. While the six men show their footage to their unseen interviewer, they also reminisce about their war experiences. Mein Krieg is also a must-see for those interested in photo history as these ex-servicemen, shutterbugs all, lovingly show off their cameras and equipment and speak nostalgically of the ingenious angles they shot from and incredible light textures achieved in sub-zero temperatures. The images these six men capture on their largely 8mm equipment is in black-and white and one has some stunning Kodachrome footage. They were all stationed on the eastern front and involved in the invasion of Russia. What they capture is more the ordinariness of the war, rather than the horror. They were looking for personal mementos, not historical documents. We see little evidence to document the Nazi atrocity; instead we see boys on an adventure. The images that stick in your mind are the things like a guy perched atop a bomb playing his accordion, a silly slow-motion take of a platoon bouncing up and down during squat thrusts, and half-naked women dancing for the soldiers as they head toward the front. These boys could be Allies or Nazis; their languages differ but their needs remain much the same. Equally remarkable are the oral histories the men provide. Their reactions to the war are all so different. One starts filming while at the Nazi Youth Camp in order to show his curious parents what went on in there, another regards the war as merely an opportunity to see the world. One waxes enthusiastic about his exploits, another begs off the question of whether he participated in killings. For all these men it seems that the war was the most defining experience of their lives yet, curiously, not one of them speaks about it freely or without caution. This kind of self-censorship, along with some choices made by directors Eder and Kufus, prevent us from ever fully seeing the whole story. The glimpses are fascinating however, sometimes more for what they don't include than for what they do.