Speeches from Film: Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers

Two posts ago, I looked at Kenneth Branagh’s St. Crispin’s Day speech in the film Henry V. That speech — particularly the line “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” — was the inspiration for the title of a book and the subsequent television mini-series that it spawned: Band of Brothers.

Band of Brothers was based on the real-life World War II experiences of E Company (“Easy Company”) of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. It followed the men of E Company from their training to Normandy to Germany and the end of the war.

The series had many poignant moments, but one of the most moving was the speech below by a German General (portrayed by Wolf Kahler) to his defeated troops. It was a speech that resonated not only with the German soldiers but also with the American soldiers listening. The German General eloquently conveyed in a few words the sentiments shared by all who fought, regardless of the uniform that they wore.

Here are some reasons why I liked the speech:

  • As difficult as it must have been, the General kept his composure. If we need good speeches in good times — and we do — they are critical in difficult times. When people are hurting, they need to hear words of encouragement and hope. In such times, speakers must remain poised and demonstrate leadership, even when they face the same challenges as the audience.
  • The General acknowledged the suffering and hardship that the men endured. He didn’t attempt to soften it. When delivering difficult news, it is almost always better to be upfront with one’s audience.
  • He spoke in a loud and clear voice.
  • The General paused frequently (even if the pauses were extended somewhat to allow for translation into English for viewers).
  • The speech was entirely about the men. In fact, the General referred to himself only once — to say how proud he was to have served with his soldiers.
  • The General concluded on a hopeful note, wishing his men long, happy and peaceful lives.

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  1. I thought the German General scene was great. Was this portraying a real happening? If so – who was the actor representing?

    1. Dear Bob,
      Thanks for the comment. I don’t know whether the speech actually took place, but the entire series is based on the real life experiences of “E” Company, an American infantry regiment in World War II. I looked around to see if I could find an answer to your second question. This is what I found on a chat board. I can’t vouch for it, but it certainly seems legit:
      “[T]he general who surrendered to “E” Company/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (101st Airborne Division) was Generalleutnant Theodor Tolsdorff, recipient of the Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds. Commander of the LXXXII Army Corps, Tolsdorff and a convoy of 31 vehicles surrendered at a crossroads checkpoint manned by “E” Company near Berchtesgaden.”

      1. Hello John and Bob,

        You are right, the fact depicted is real, and is told in Stephen Ambrose’s book. Although a general is put on the film, it is rather a colonel that is credited for this speech, on Lipton’s account of the facts. And he tells about the speech in the passive form, so the exact words we do not know. I have made a transcript of the speech, because it has touched me deeply.

        But the series director (Tom Hanks in this episode, I think) has made a very good job in conveying all the emotion of such an event!

        Nazism is a bad ideology, but we often forget that among the armies were many conscripted citizens, that did not necessarily appove the govt politics. I have a very good friend in Germany that has started a movement “Mein Großvater war kein Verbrecher”, or my grandfather was not criminal. And I believe her, because I know the man. A citizen dragged to a war in times of crisis…

        By the way, I liked a lot your page John, keep up the excelent job!

        1. Thank you for the comment, Julio and for all the additional information. I think that scene is incredibly important for the very point you raise: the soldiers on the other side were people too who had fought for their country, lost friends, were scared and would have rather been home with their families. It is a very poignant scene.

          Thanks also for the kind words about the blog.

  2. My grandfather wasnt one of these “Easy boys”, as he calls them; however he served in Dog company, 2nd battalion, 506th. Specifically a common infantry man he soon became the recon soldier. Once being wounded in Alla miene. And a second in the town of Cerentan. I asked him about it once. He told me an officer of the Reich spoke to his men, however in a less formal fashion due to the speech being given in a concentration camp railstation as the nazis were then taken to southern france.

    1. Thanks very much for sharing your grandfather’s story with us, Michael. And thanks also for the insight into the speech. They often make things more dramatic for film, but I can well imagine that there was some drama in reality as well.

  3. I can recall the exact moment I first heard this speech. Although it was only television it instantly resonated something about the relationship between a caring commander and the soldiers that he served and his respect for them and vice versa. The fact that it was based on truth gives a lie to all the propaganda that is fed to us about the Nazis (admittedly nasty) and the Wehrmacht. Most soldiers are serving only their country, their regiment and comrades. A truly brilliant piece of television.

    1. Thanks for the comment, John. Nazism, as a political philosophy, is utterly repugnant. But there is no question that many Germans fought, as you say, for their country and comrades. This was a great scene. You can see the complete understanding of the American soldiers as they listen to the German General speak. At that moment, nationalities dissolve and they are all just soldiers.

    1. Leider ich habe es nicht auf Deutsch gefunden. But if you look on the Internet, I am sure it is there somewhere.

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