The Saving Private Ryan detail you might have missed that makes the film even more brutal

Spielberg intentionally left the moment unsubtitled

Christopher Hooton
Thursday 16 February 2017 10:26 GMT
Saving Private Ryan: Scene in which two Czech soldiers are shot dead when it is assumed they are speaking German

One of the best things about 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, which hasn’t dulled with age (as evidenced by my recently getting sucked into a TV re-run of it at about 1am for the full ~three hours), is the way it shows the pain and horror of war affecting both sides.

It’s not good v. bad but rather a horrid mess, with no-one really knowing what they’re doing or what the rules are.

One of the scenes that demonstrates this best comes during the Omaha beach invasion, when two soldiers surrender to the Allied forces but, speaking German, their pleas for mercy aren’t understood and they are executed on the spot.

Except they weren’t speaking German, they were speaking Czech, pleading: “Please don’t shoot me! I am not German, I am Czech, I didn’t kill anyone! I am Czech!"

Youtube series History Buffs explains what was going on here (at 13:30):

“Since these soldiers claim to be Czech, they were most likely conscripted into the German army when Czechoslovakia was conquered by Germany in 1939.

“They would have been part of the ost-bataillone, which were military units that conscripted citizens from Eastern European countries, as well as from the Soviet Union, and many were forcibly drafted from POW camps.”

Director Steven Spielberg could have reflected this through subtitles, of course, but he clearly knew that even if the viewer assumed the soldiers to be German, the moment was still horrifying enough.

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