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TV Review: An epic tale of love and war

Surviving Hitler: A Love Story (BBC4) -- If you tried to pitch the story of Jutta and Helmuth Cord to a Hollywood studio, you'd be escorted off the premises by security for being a raving fantasist. Picture it: Jewish girl meets German soldier, they fall in love, she loses him, finds him again during the war, they both become involved in a plot to kill Hitler, are arrested and imprisoned, escape during the Fall of Berlin and live happily ever after.

It's so incredibly unlikely, no cinemagoer in the world would possibly believe it.

Well, believe it, because it's all true.

John Keith Wasson's extraordinary documentary Surviving Hitler: A Love Story gave it to us straight from the horse's mouth -- or rather from the mouth of Jutta Cord, who told the entire story in her own words.

Jutta was 13 when Adolf Hitler took power and 15 before she realised her mother was Jewish.

The discovery came when the school gave her a form for her parents to fill in, stating their racial identity.

Being half-Jewish meant Jutta was automatically barred from attending university. Her teacher, an SS officer, called her to his office one day and told her she'd spend the next week standing by the door, practising the Nazi salute.

Jutta's father, who'd been involved with the anti-Hitler resistance from the very beginning, arranged for a local GP to put a cast on Jutta's arm.

It was to be the first of many narrow escapes.

Jutta was packed off to Switzerland in 1939, where she met and fell in love with Helmuth, a handsome, charming soldier.

Helmuth also abhorred Hitler but had decided to do his obligatory two years' army service sooner rather than later, "to get it out of the way".

When war broke out, he was sent to the Russian front but promised to stay in touch with Jutta. Ever defiant, Jutta went against her parents' wishes and returned to Berlin.

A friend in the propaganda ministry would warn Jutta's parents when the Nazis planned a round-up of Jews, so the family would leave the city for a few days until the heat died down. On one of these trips, Jutta was reunited with Helmuth, who'd been wounded in action.

What followed was an epic tale of love and war, told on an intimate scale and liberally sprinkled with fascinating 8mm home-movie footage filmed by Helmuth, as well as snippets of his own voice from old radio interviews.

Werner von Haeften, a friend of Jutta's parents, was one of the army officers involved in the July 20 plot to kill Hitler.

At huge risk to their own lives, they sheltered him in their home when word got out that Hitler had survived the bomb blast, but ultimately to no avail.

Von Haeften later died when he threw himself in front of the firing squad bullets intended for his friend and co-conspirator Claus von Stauffenberg.

Helmuth had also played a role in the plot by guarding the Bendlerblock, which at the time served as the HQ of the officers plotting the assassination.

In the wave of round-ups and executions -- some 4,890 of them -- that followed the failed operation, Helmuth, Jutta and her parents were among those arrested.

Amazingly, all of them somehow made it through to the end of the war, Jutta's mother emerging, seriously malnourished, from the horror of a concentration camp. When Berlin fell, Jutta and Helmuth -- who as a serving German soldier would surely have found no mercy from the Russians -- escaped from the city by the skin of their teeth.

Jutta and Helmuth became the first couple to marry in post-war Berlin and in 1951 moved to America, where they raised three children.

If the film had a flaw, it was that it was too short.

An hour wasn't nearly enough to squeeze in the finer details, such as precisely how, for instance, Jutta's mother escaped the fate of so many Jews in the camps.

But ultimately, like the love story it portrayed, this was a heart-filling triumph.