D-Day film tells the stories of 14 survivors, 75 years later

Culture Film

A History Channel documentary gives a unique double perspective from both sides of the war through D-Day in 14 Stories

Screenshot via youtube.com

Allied troops advanced onto beaches in the Normandy region of France for the decisive World War II D-Day invasion 75 years ago — the largest seaborne invasion in history. This event led to Europe’s progressive liberation from Hitler’s Nazis, but many of the soldiers that fought on D-Day did not return home.

Some of the stories of those who did are featured in the History Channel and YAP film’s latest documentary — D-Day in 14 Stories. The film depicts D-Day through the eyes of 14 survivors, who narrate the film and recount their memories from the invasion in 1944.

The documentary starts with reenacted scenes from the beach, where bullets can be heard nonstop and wounded soldiers are scattered on the sand. The French beaches where D-Day took place were defended by German forces, as they held control of Europe through “the Atlantic Wall” — a massive coastal defensive system that stretched over 2 500 km from Norway to Spain. The US, Britain, and Canada deployed over 150 000 people onto five beaches in that area.

The stories in the film tell both sides of this event, including accounts from a man in the Hitler Youth, a Jewish-American soldier in charge of communications, and two French civilians.

The first story comes from Marie Krebs, a civilian that covertly resisted the Germans when they occupied her city in France. Krebs transported secret messages on her bicycle, hiding them in her bike pump. She says she was very afraid, and that the Germans likely knew of this civilian resistance, so they would look everywhere.

Hearing these stories directly from the people that experienced them is undoubtedly powerful. They remind viewers of the sacrifices, fear, and violence that both soldiers and everyday civilians went through during World War II.

It’s difficult to recreate the massive extent of this invasion, but the film does this well by overlapping the recreated scenes with narration by the survivors. It is almost as if you are watching their video diary, and then at various points the film cuts to actual shots from the day and the viewer is reminded that this is not fiction.

One man, American Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, recalls looking down at the water from a plane as the boats below headed towards Normandy.

“It looked as if you could walk across to France on those ships,” said Martin. That day, 7 000 ships were deployed across the English channel.

At one point, the documentary switches directly from showing the perspective of Martin parachuting down from a plane, to the perspective of a German soldier that was on the ground that day and looking up as the paratroopers filled the morning sky. You truly see the invasion from both sides through the perspectives conveyed in this film.

As troops hit the beach, the film becomes more intense. Germans were inside of pill boxes or bunkers on the beach, and they were able to stay relatively safe behind concrete while also shooting at allies with machine guns. Today, some of those bunkers still stand. It may be difficult for some viewers to watch as death is shown often and the reenacted scenes become bloody.

At this point in the film, the sound of bullets firing is totally constant.  

It is eerie, and unexpected for me as a viewer and a Canadian, to hear from people that were Nazis involved in this invasion. For instance, one man tells viewers about the weapon that killed many ally soldiers on the beach, as it could shoot 2 000 shots per minute. They nicknamed it the “Hitler Saw.” The Germans in the film don’t speak highly of Hitler, but they aren’t exactly remorseful either.

This film is about D-Day, not World War II. It is not a history lesson, nor does it give many details about the governments these soldiers were fighting for or against. What is does give, however, is stories. And in this way, it pays tribute to people more than politics.

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Normandy and Somme region of France and walk along the beach where D-Day took place. As the film began, I almost instantly felt my eyes tear up. Although I know what happened there on that day, I can’t shake the memory of walking along that beach myself and knowing that that sand was once stained with the blood of young people like myself — going to war for their country, and fighting against the very real threat of Nazi fascism. My ancestors did not fight in the war, but thousands of Canadians did.

On Remembrance Day, we often say “lest we forget,” but many of us seldom make an effort to remember these soldiers outside of that one day in November. I heavily urge people to visit these beaches for themselves, and remember the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our freedom today through watching this film.

The film airs on June 1, 2nd, and 6th on the History Channel and then on Global on the 8th.