Always on 6 June, I have a feeling of gratitude to the more than 160,000 Allied troops that landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944 (D-Day) and marked the beginning of the second phase of the liberation of Europe (after the landing in Sicily on 10 July 1943). As a German, I still find it embarrassing that my grandparents could not get rid of the Nazi tyranny themselves, but that soldiers from around the world had to muster their courage and many of them had to sacrifice their lives to allow my parents’ generation to grow up in a free, liberal and democratic Germany.
If you wish to commemorate this day, I recommend to find a veteran of World War II and celebrate with him or her. In the absence of such a veteran, you may at least want to watch a movie about D-Day. Here are my top three recommendations.
The classic: The Longest Day
The Longest Day from 1962 is the classic movie about D-Day, recounting the military action on both sides hour by hour. It is a massive production with an enormous line-up of stars.
Even though the film won several Oscars, by today’s standards the black and white The Longest Day is far less impressive. Because original colour footage of the landing in Normandy has been discovered in the meantime, I would actually recommend to go for that if you want to get a realistic impression.
The fictional: Saving Private Ryan
A much more harrowing account than in The Longest Day is given in the opening landing scene of Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg.
Watching this opening scene is an exhausting, sickening, physical experience. I still remember that I saw it in its opening week at a cinema in New York and I had to fight with the girl who had accompanied me because she wanted to leave the cinema in the first 10 minutes into the movie. I myself was happy that I hadn’t had dinner yet.
Steven Spielberg made a very intense movie about D-Day. The colours that he used create the impression of watching an account filmed in 1944. The brutality of war displayed in this film makes it even harder to watch classics like The Longest Day with the same eyes. The latter seems like a modern version of a Western film, a sanitized depiction of real events.
The only weakness of Saving Private Ryan is its story. Private Ryan has lost three brothers in other battles of World War II and he is the only remaining son of his family. The US War Department decides to send a rescue mission to France to get him home before he will be killed.
The real deal: Band of Brothers
If you are looking for a good story, the director and the star of Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, have teamed up to produce the ultimate movie about World War II with great characters, a great script and in the same old-style cinematography as Saving Private Ryan.
However, you will need a bit of time, as Band of Brothers was produced as a TV series of almost 12 hours. It is actually not only about D-Day, but follows one company of a US Parachute Infantry Regiment from their basic training in the USA, to the preparation for the landing in France, to D-Day, the liberation of Europe, including the most moving part about the liberation of a concentration camp until the end of World War II in the Bavarian Alps.
Because of the time available, Band of Brothers can develop the characters with much more depth than the other films. The series covers a time span of two years, with highs and lows in the Allied war efforts, with victories and retreats, with summer lulls and fierce winter battles. What I especially liked about Band of Brothers is that it takes the time to depict some battles in such a detail that one learns about the strategy and the tactics used. Very useful for some of us!
If I had to pick one of the above, I would not hesitate to choose Band of Brothers over the other two. If you have already seen all of the above, I recommend some alternative history with Inglourious Basterds.
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Oh man, “The Longest Day” is a good romp, but SO full of inaccuracies! I would much more strongly recommend “Private Ryan”, at least for the opening sequence – which sent a number of WW2 D-Day vets to the lobby, basically triggering PTSD-like symptoms due to the reality of the scenes. If you’re going to drift away from Normandy a-la “Band Of Brothers”, I’d recommend “A Bridge Too Far”. It does have a few inaccuracies, but they’re in the small details, and the scope of the whole ground/air offensive to capture the bridges is breath-taking in scope There are a number of good, but small, movies set during the 1944 winter offensive (“The Battle Of The Bulge”, as it has become known), which tie in nicely with “Band of Brothers”.
If you want a broader filmography, let me know and I’ll dig through my collection. And if you want to honour the WW2 troops AND have a huge laugh, “Kelly’s Heroes” has to be seen to believed. It’s hilarious!
By the by, you shouldn’t feel too much shame about your predecessors. There were many brave German fighting men who did not believe in Nazism, and the German soldier did more fighting, with fewer resources and people “behind” him (in the logistics train) than just about any other major combatant in WW2. Remember, I was a German WW2 re-enactor for a few years (about 20 years ago), and was often faced with the “Nazi” label, only to make people think twice when I would quote lines from various soldiers’ biographies (including autobiographies) that showed the men only paying lip-service to Nazism, while fighting against horrific odds, especially on the Eastern front, with obsolete weapons and horse transport. (I do NOT support Nazism, or any neo-Nazi group. I just respect men who fought for their country, even if the leaders of their country were monsters.)
I actually respect those German soldiers more who deserted or who actively turned against the Nazis, even if most of them acted far too late, as the group of 20 July 1944.
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I watched this in Italy recently in the Italian language and it was brilliant!…. Nothing to do with D Day but Generation war is a fantastic production… even though certain parts of it where implausible… The acting is brilliant! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL7V0bHseu8
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this blog is very good
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Rests to recommed to visit the D-Day Festival at Normandy. (Even if it’s not glamorous to recommend an event Donald Trump took part in.) It‘s a really unique european festival (although participation as a German could seem to feel special, strange). Hard to believe what has happened at this peaceful, beautyful region. It‘s an emotional return for veterans and for visitors it’s not less emoting to get in touch with an veteran.
We dont‘t want to imagine what would be Europe like today without these sad battles.
I would actually love to visit such a festival!
And I am used to feeling strange as a German, not only when visiting WW2 museums in Armenia or Ukraine, former concentration camps, or the Nazi subway tunnels on the Channel islands.
But at the same time, like you say, I feel thankful for the contribution by the Western and Eastern Allies.
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