Ever since it aired in Germany in March, the World War II miniseries has been lauded as a milestone in the country's ongoing process of atonement. Filmed by public broadcaster ZDF, "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" ("Our Mothers, Our Fathers") depicts the roles of ordinary Germans in the war, but without the moral judgement that has been applied so often in the past.
Germans loved it. But Poles? Not so much. Since the miniseries concluded, the Polish media has erupted with criticism, alleging that it not only painted Germans as victims, but falsely represented the roles of Polish resistance fighters in the Armia Krajowa (AK), or Home Army.
On Tuesday, their outrage came to a head when the conservative weekly news magazine Uwazam Rze published a cover story with an illustration of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a concentration camp prisoner, under the headline, "Falsification of History: How the Germans Are Turning Themselves into Victims of the Second World War."
Already in late March, Juliusz Braun, the head of Polish public broadcaster TVP wrote to ZDF to say that the portrayal of the Poles in the series had "nothing to do with historical reality." The Polish Home Army Association, which represents the largest armed underground movement in Poland during WWII, also released a statement that called the depiction of the fighters "scandalous."
The three-part series follows the lives of five young German friends through the war, including the Jewish character Viktor, who manages to break out of a train transporting him and others to a concentration camp. On the run, he finds shelter with resistance fighters in German-occupied Poland, but quickly gleans from their frequent anti-Semitic comments that he must hide his Jewish heritage to survive.
While there is evidence that Home Army units helped Poland's Jews, there are also disputed reports of anti-Semitic sentiments among them. The issue remains highly controversial in the country, so it's not surprising that the miniseries would raise eyebrows. It also doesn't help that the two neighboring countries have long had a fraught relationship, mainly due to Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland, but also because of the expulsion of Germans from ethnic-German territories ceded to Poland in 1945.
In response to the latest media coverage in Poland, ZDF has pointed to a statement it made late last month, which said it was regrettable that the role of Polish characters in the series had been interpreted as "unfair and hurtful."
"The deeds and responsibility of the Germans should in no way be relativized," it continued, adding that not only had well-known historians taken part in writing the screenplay, but that two historical documentaries had also been filmed to accompany the project.