Charité at War is a German series. It’s set in the Berlin hospital Charité during the last two years of World War II. It’s an examination of the moral choices doctors and nurses must make when trying to save lives under a Nazi regime. There are a couple of spoilers ahead.
This 6 part series is actually season two of the German series Charité. Season one was set in 1888 in the same hospital. Season 2, now in the US on Netflix, is called Charité at War.
The series is a work of fact and fiction. Some of the characters were based on real people. Some archival footage of Berlin is mixed in with the story.
The main characters in the drama are doctors and nurses. The first one we meet is Anni Waldhausen (Mala Emde). She’s visibly pregnant on her way to a lecture from the famous surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch (Ulrich Noethen). Sauerbruch is one of several real people who worked at Charité Hospital or who are mentioned in the story. Anni’s in medical school and almost finished.
On her way into the hospital, she meets her brother Otto (Jannik Schümann). Otto is a doctor who has been working in a field hospital. He will be home for a while and stay with Anni.
In the lecture hall, Anni joins her husband Dr. Artur Waldhausen (Artjom Gilz). He’s a pediatrician. Unbeknownst to Anni, he is testing TB in children considered disposable by the Nazis.
Other important characters in the story include Dr. Sauerbruch’s wife Margot (Luise Wolfram), who supported her husband in every way. She was either a nurse or a doctor herself, I wasn’t clear about that. Dr. Adolphe Jung (Hans Löw) was a French surgeon there to help Dr. Sauerbruch. Martin (Jacob Matschenz), a nurse, became increasingly important as the series progressed.
Martin and Otto fell in love, an offense punishable by death under the Nazis. Martin had already barely escaped one conviction for “sex offenders.”
When Anni had her baby, a daughter named Karin, the baby showed signs of hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. This was another worrisome development because genetically imperfect children were destroyed under the Nazis.
That’s the setting: a group of people working to save lives while living in conditions that might get them or their children killed. Around them were nurses, doctors, spies, and German officers. Each of the characters picked a side. They either supported Hitler and the Nazis or were secretly working against him. It wasn’t always clear which side someone was on until the episodes progressed.
Who could be trusted? Who might report Otto and Martin? Who might report Karin? As 1943 came to a close, the air raids on Berlin increased. The hospital bunkers were inadequate. Supplies were in running low. By 1945, Berlin was in a shambles and the war efforts didn’t look good for Germany. Working at the hospital was dangerous and conditions became more and more difficult.
By 1945, Anni figured out what Artur was doing to children in the name of research. She was not happy about it. Even worse, he sent their daughter Karin away to the same clinic where other “defective” children were kept.
It all came to a head in the last episode: the danger, the intrigue, the resistance, the zeal of the true believers, the bombings, the love stories, and the heroic efforts of the doctors and nurses to save lives in a tiny bunker with no supplies. It was May 1945. Finally, the city surrendered, the Russians arrived and everything was over.
There were a few moments of decompression after that. Anni and Karin were shown walking together as a voice over from Anni talked about her life and the lives of others after the war. She talked about when homosexuality stopped being a death sentence in Germany. She talked about how many people died as a result of the Nazi regime.
Charité at War was created and written by Dorothee Schön and Sabine Thor-Wiedemann. These two wrote both seasons, including the one not available on Netflix. Even if you don’t speak German, you might enjoy a look at the website for the series. It has some great photos.
When I began this series, it seemed like it was going to be too favorable to the German point of view during World War II. I slowly realized, however, that it was a cautionary tale about the dangers of Nazism. I kept watching. I saw parallels with activities of the far right, white supremacists, and Nazis now. Right now. To me, that was the most important part of the story. The drama, the well-written characters, and the suspense were bonuses.
I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles for you to watch, but Netflix has one. The trailer Netflix has is actually a better glimpse into what the story is about than this one.