In the 90s, the Wehrmachtsausstellung reached Vienna. It detailed the war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht during World War II and created a lot of controversy, as the Wehrmacht thus far had been thought to have a relatively clean record (after an extensive review of the exhibition and its materials after the criticism, they found certain inaccuracies and a few generalizations that were too big, but the core argument still stands).
Beckermann visited the exhibition with her camera and interviewed the visitors to the exhibition, most of whom were Wehrmacht soldiers themselves.
Jenseits des Krieges is an incredibly important cinematic document and one that should be much older than it actually is. It proves that we had and still have a long way too go when it comes to our confrontation with World War II.
The exhibition certainly touched a nerve, both for the people who could not believe that their fathers or even they themselves were accused of doing anything untoward. For most of the men interviewed, the crimes detailed were regretable mistakes, outliers and isolated cases; or straight-up fabrications. But they could not face the facts that the Wehrmacht, too, participated in and led the systematic annihilation of Jewish people, or committed crimes against the civilian population and Soviet soldiers.
There were a few who could look those things in the eye and who were triggered by the exhibition in another way: having to face their own guilt and a few having to face the murder and extinction of their own families. Those honest displays of emotions were absolutely touching and burrowed themselves in my memory.
Of course, the people arguing that the things that the exhibition showed couldn’t have possible have happened in the way they showed them, were also affected by the atrocities shown. Their defensive posturing was – in most cases – obviously protection for themselves, to not be reminded of the things that happened. That they made happen.
This defensiveness is something that seems incredibly outdated. One would think that this was a stage we as a society left behind about maybe 50 years ago. The film is 20 years old, though, and very little has happeend since. There are still way too many people who have this knee-jerk reaction to Austria’s role in World War II, helped by the fact that we can all point to history and claim to have been Germany’s first victim. And as long as we’ve got our claws sunk into that position, we will never be able to face our actual role then. And Jenseits des Krieges shows effectively and touchingly that 20 years ago, this certainly hadn’t been the case yet.
Summarizing: Essential viewing.