#Victory70 Special: The Invisible War of WWII on Film
This post is part of the 70 YEARS OF THE GREAT VICTORY MARATHON
Happy Victory Day!
Today, on May 9th, a massive Victory Parade takes place on Red Square and in other 25 cities all over Russia. See my coverage here: #Victory70 May 9th Red Square and All Russia Victory Day Parades Marathon
These parades are full of well-trained troops and impressive new hardware, as well as historic T-34 tanks from the Great Patriotic War. Also, there is a new tradition, called “The Immortal Regiment.” Overall 12 million people in Russia and beyond took part in the Immortal Regiment marches. This was a sight to behold. A boundless sea of people participated in Moscow, carrying pictures of their relatives who perished in the war. Putin joined, carrying a photo of his father.
While big battles with many casualties, tragedy and loss played out for six difficult years on the fronts of the most devastating war humans have ever known, I want to talk about another war – the war that was invisible to all but a few; the kind of war that dramatically shifted the balance of power on the planet. It was the war that helped ensure Victory Day.
You all know that I love to write spy thrillers. In fact, my thrillers are about spies by accident and out of necessity. GOLD TRAIN (Accidental Spy Russia Adventure) is about American journalist Jade Snow who goes to Moscow to re-discover her deep Russian roots and to get that bomb of a story; instead she finds herself between the rock and the hard place when duty and curiosity draw her to unravel a major conspiracy. THE EARTH SHIFTER, usually called a mystical thriller, has a significant spy thriller component. Sasha’s father Professor Maxim Elfimov happens to also be a master remote viewer and unbeknownst to him, he is husband to a spy. He becomes a spy in order to avenge his wife and protect his daughter, whose destiny is to become the Earth Shifter.
What can I say, I love spies. When I was barely 10, I often found myself inventing spy thriller stories in my head. I also love watching very intelligently made spy movies. Probably the best movies I’ve even seen in this genre were Soviet ones. Today, I want to share two of the best TV mini-series ever made.
Seventeen Moments of Spring (Russian: Семнадцать мгновений весны).
It was filmed at Gorky Film Studio, directed by Tatyana Lioznova and based on the book with the same title by the novelist Yulian Semyonov. The series comprises 12 episodes 70 minutes each. Starring Russian screen legend Vyacheslav Tikhonov. Other leading roles were performed by Leonid Bronevoy, Oleg Tabakov, Yuri Vizbor, Yevgeniy Yevstigneyev, Rostislav Plyatt, Vasily Lanovoy, and Mikhail Zharkovsky.
When the new episode of this film was on, streets got empty as everyone – young and old – were glued to their screens. Crime was generally very low in the USSR, but police reported that during Seventeen Moments of Spring it became non-existent, as even criminals had taken to watching it. The movie made an indelible impression, especially when it first came out. It painted a realistic and profound picture of Germany and Europe during the burning hot Spring 1945. It includes some real documentary footage of WWII battles, as well as Hitler and other historic figures of that time, embedded in the film. Real documents of those days are presented, as well as fictional documents based on real historic events. The film was masterminded in such a way as to seem like a documentary, therefore, it was originally black and white, to coincide with the documentary footage and appear more realistic. A color version was also made.
Historic Fact: As the Russian army approaches Berlin, in March 1945 Soviet leadership finds out that someone in Hitler’s closest inner circle is trying to sign a unilateral surrender with the supposed Soviet ally USA, bypassing USSR, who has done most of the work and suffered by far most casualties in the war against fascism. The secret negotiator for the US was Allen Dulles and negotiations did take place on March 8, 1945 in Switzerland. It becomes clear that many of the Nazi criminals who committed despicable acts on the territory of the USSR and who, according to the allied agreement, are supposed to be tried by the international tribunal, may avoid retribution as they will be quietly whisked away to the USA, while most of the Nazi power structures are kept intact behind the Russians’ backs. The operation was codenamed both Operation Sunrise and Operation Crossword (“Sunrise Crossword” in the film).
Berlin is already being bombed. Soviet leadership contacts the deep cover agent implanted into the Nazi regime since 1920s, who goes by the name Standartenführer SS Otto von Stierlitz, known to only a few in Moscow as Colonel Maxim Isaev. He was probably the highest placed Russian agent in Nazi Germany and Schellenberg’s protegé. Stierlitz must find out who exactly is behind these secret negotiations. As the news get more and more alarming, the Russian agent must also derail unilateral surrender plans. How, that’s the question.
As Stierlitz tries to figure out whether it’s Himmler, Goebbels or Bormann who are attempting to sign the surrender, there are unforseen complications. During US/UK bombing of Berlin, Stierlitz’ radio-criptographer is killed and his pregnant wife, his second radio specialist, is wounded and captured by Gestapo. As he attempts to solve the mystery of who is behind the negotiations, derail American plans and at the same time save his assistant, Stierlitz must find alternative ways of delivering his messages. A multi-layered cat and mouse game begins as he is also being investigated by Gestapo. The plot thickens…
As we know from history, the unilateral surrender never happened, thanks to that Soviet officer whose true name will never be known. Seventeen Moments of Spring is a fictionalized account; names and circumstances have been modified. However, the events described in the film did take place and the unilateral surrender almost became a reality.
I have found this movie on YouTube with English subtitles! Please go to this channel. The video of each episode is divided into seven segments. Scroll down the playlists for earlier episodes as they are in reverse order.
This movie, like most Russian movies, has great songs and music score. Watch clip and listen to the famous song, Somewhere Far Away.
Shield and Sword (Russian: Щит и меч)
Filmed at Mosfilm in 1968, it consists of 4 episodes. Starring Russian screen legends Stanislav Lyubshin as deep cover Russian agent Johann Weiss (aka Alexandr Belov) and Oleg Yankovsky as a spoiled rich brat turned anti-fascist Heinrich Schwarzkopf. Also made in black and white to represent the era.
A modest and helpful auto mechanic Johann Weiss is a so-called Volksdeutsche, or ethnic German living in Riga, Latvia circa 1940. But that’s only his cover. In reality, he is Russian Alexandr Belov. Many Germans living in Latvia are thinking about repatriating to Germany as the smell of the upcoming war is getting stronger. Johann’s best client is wealthy engineer and inventor Schwarzkopf. His son Heinrich is also a client and an unlikely friend, despite the difference in social stature.
Engineer Schwarzkopf is very valuable to both sides. Germans are convincing him to move back to Germany to help out arming and equipping the growing German army. Suddenly, Schwarzkopf Sr. is killed. Johann learns that a day prior engineer received Soviet citizenship and was planning on moving to Moscow. Afraid that the formiddable knowledge and secrets in his head would become Russian property, local leader of German Nazis has ordered him killed; however, aloud he says that it was USSR that took him out because he was planning on moving to Berlin.
Devasted Heinrich decides to move to Berlin and Johann follows. Heinrich’s influential uncle gets Johann a lucrative placement in German intelligence, Abwehr. Johann’s career skyrockets as he proves to be a very helpful and level-headed officer.
Johann (Lyubshin) left, Heinrich (Yankovsky) right
Meanwhile, as Heinrich observes Nazi atrocities, he gets more and more disgusted. He starts doubting the official story of his father’s death. Eventually, Johann’s friends show him proof of his father’s Soviet citizenship and his assassination by Germans. Heinrich becomes double agent now working directly with Johann.
The movie includes a universally beloved song “Where does the Motherland Begin?” as well as others. I wish I could post the song here, but Mosfilm doesn’t allow the embedding of its videos. It’s a very beautiful melody, and lyrics are simply stellar. Here is the video of this song, with a great clip from Shield and Sword, in memory of Oleg Yankovsky (С чего начинается родина – памяти Олега Янковского).
Unfortunately, I could only find Shield and Sword in Russian:
Both films are based on true stories of real Russian spies.
You can find more Russian songs of the Great Victory here
More movies about the Great War here
Link to the immortal song The Cranes in:
Additionally, check out the comment section for some very good and important comments: “Victory Day – it’s a holiday with tears in our eyes!” This is the song that became the anthem of Victory Day and a symbol of the Great Victory. Lyrics are beautiful! Listen to the song and read English translation here: Nemo1024
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Posted on May 9, 2015, in Russia, WWII & Great Victory and tagged С чего начинается родина, Семнадцать мгновений весны, Щит и меч, памяти Олега Янковского, Gold Train (Accidental Spy Russia Adventure), Great War, Invisible War, Oleg Yankovsky, Russian movies, Seventeen Moments of Spring, spies, The Earth Shifter, the Great Victory, thriller, Victory day, WW2. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.