The film's epilogue displays a graphic stating that in the Battle for Stalingrad, more than a million people were killed in action, starved or froze to death. Among them, Russians, Romanians, Italians, Hungarians, Germans and Austrians. Of the Sixth Army's 260,000 men, 91,000 were taken prisoner. Of those, only 6,000 returned home years later.
Exploring Josef Stalin's handling of the conflict between the Soviet Union and Germany during the Second World War, revealing how the dictator's mental frailties nearly caused his country to fall to the Nazis in 1941, and examining the compromises he was forced to make in order to survive. Also investigating the events that led to Stalin eventually siding with the Allied powers, including Winston Churchill's 1942 visit to Moscow.
The movie follows a platoon of German Army soldiers as they are transferred from Italy after recent fighting in the North Africa, to Russia where they ultimately find themselves unwilling participants in the Battle of Stalingrad.
The film is the second German movie to portray the Battle of Stalingrad. It is predated by 1959 German film Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben
A group of German soldiers enjoy vacation leave in Italy after returning from combat deployment in North Africa. Moments later, an awards ceremony is held to promote military ranks within a troop battalion. Following the assembly, a group of soldiers, among them Lt. Hans von Witzland (Thomas Kretschmann), Unteroffizier Manfred Rohleder ([Jochen Nickel) and Obergefreiter Fritz Reiser (Dominique Horwitz) are dismissed and advised their unit has been ordered to battle in the Eastern Front of Russia.
During heavy fighting in the city of Stalingrad, the German unit fights its way to an industrial factory and manage to occupy it, but with heavy casualties. The building is surrounded by the Russians, as a stalemate goes on with the dead and wounded lying in the streets. In an attempt to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead, von Witzland proposes a ceasefire. But the state of calm ends as one of the Germans fire upon the Russians. The next day, the Russians attack again. Without communications, a team of German troops escape underground into the sewers to summon for help. Venturing out on his own, von Witzland later captures and interrogates a Russian woman named Irina (Dana Vávrová) who later escapes however, following a clash with him. The group arrive at a field hospital, where Reiser threatens an orderly in order to get medical attention for his friend Emigoltz. Despite this, Emigoltz dies, and the group is arrested and delivered to a penal unit. They serve in it for several weeks, during which the Soviets surround and trap the 6th Army in Stalingrad.
After a battle involving Soviet tank-infantry, suffering heavy losses, the men are returned to their unit. Troop morale begins to decline as the German soldiers become disenchanted with the war effort, especially after being forced to shoot unarmed civilians. Reiser proposes a plan to abandon Stalingrad by faking injuries and boarding a medical flight with his fellow soldiers. The soldiers make it to Pitomnik airport, but are left stranded as the last German transport plane takes off under heavy Russian artillery fire. The soldiers attempt to leave on foot and arrive at an abandoned warehouse. There they find Irina, the Russian woman von Witzland encountered in the sewers. She had been captured and raped by the Germans. Depressed, Otto commits suicide. Irina agrees to lead von Witzland and Reiser to safety in the wilderness, but is shot and accidentally killed by Soviet forces. Reiser and von Witzland then try to seek refuge on their own, but von Witzland freezes to death, followed shortly thereafter by Reiser.
A scene of devastation as an abandoned horse stands among the ruins of Stalingrad in December of 1942. (AP Photo) #
A tank cemetery which the Germans are stated to have established at Rzhev on December 21, 1942. Some 2,000 tanks were said to be in this cemetery in various stages of disrepair. (AP Photo) #
German troops pass through a wrecked generating station in the factory district of Stalingrad, on December 28, 1942. (AP Photo) #
Ruins of part of the city of Stalingrad, on November 5, 1942, following huge battles, with wrecked shells of buildings on either side. (AP Photo) #
Standing in the backyard of an abandoned house in the outskirts of the besieged city of Leningrad, a rifleman of the Red Army aims and fires his machine gun at German positions on December 16, 1942. (AP Photo) #
Soviet soldiers in camouflage winter uniforms line up along the roof of a house in Stalingrad, in January of 1943. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Soviet soldiers find cover in piles of rubble from blasted buildings while engaging German forces in street fighting on the outskirts of Stalingrad in early 1943. (AP Photo) #
German troops involved in street fighting in the destroyed streets of Stalingrad in early 1943. (AP Photo) #
Red Army soldiers in camouflage gear on a snow-covered battlefield, somewhere along the German-Russian war front, as they advance against German positions on March 3, 1943. (AP Photo) #
Soviet infantrymen move across snow-covered hills around Stalingrad, on their advance to lift the German siege of the city in early 1943. The Red Army eventually encircled the German Sixth Army, trapping nearly 300,000 German and Romanian soldiers in a narrow pocket. (AP Photo) #
In February of 1943, a Soviet soldier stands guard behind a captured German soldier. Months after being encircled by the Soviets in Stalingrad, the remnants of the German Sixth Army surrendered, after fierce fighting and starvation had already claimed the lives of some 200,000. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive) #
Germany's Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus at Red Army Headquarters for interrogation at Stalingrad, Russia, on March 1, 1943. Paulus was the first German Field Marshal taken prisoner in the war, defying Hitler's expectations that he fight until death (or take his own life in defeat). Paulus eventually became a vocal critic of the Nazi regime while in Soviet captivity, and later acted as a witness for the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials. (AP Photo) #