Content Warning: Rape/Sexual Assault
This week on World on Fire our core characters face a number of challenges. Harry, Lois, Stan, and Rajib are navigating injuries, more sandstorms, and a lack of supplies. Kasia confronts Sir James on the true nature of his assignment, Henriette has to escape the Gestapo, and David finds himself in very unfamiliar territory after his plane crashes. And Marga realizes exactly why Gerta and Herr Tultz tried to warn her about the Lebensborn. Let’s analyze what happened in finer detail.
Lebensborn headquarters, at first glance, seems like the rural version of Marga’s old school. To the audience, the young women exercising in unison look more like a cult gathering than a traditional gymnastics class, but Marga finds the group intriguing. The matron tells Marga and the other new arrivals that their old names are gone and that they are now “mothers of the nation.” Next, doctors examine Marga and determine that she’s ovulating, so she is ready to be assigned a partner. Marga is poked and prodded in the most cold and unfeeling way. At the end of the exam, she’s handed papers giving up custody of her baby to the Nazi state. Marga signs away her entire future without much hesitation.
After the exam, Marga joins the rest of the women in their group activities. One soldier is already leering at Marga. She then asks one of the nurses about what to expect when she’s assigned a soldier. Marga clearly came from a sheltered background and has little knowledge about sex. The nurse gives Marga a medical book about reproduction and then advises her to lie back and do nothing. This advice is not remotely helpful, and the red flags are clearly piling up.
Unfortunately for Marga, the creepy soldier introduces himself at dinner. He introduces himself as a Sturmbannführer, which translates to “assault party leader”. He’s a member of the Nazi Party paramilitary, and he brags about all of his training and how he helped capture France. He then tells her he’ll visit her room later. Marga is nervous now, and by this point, the audience knows the worst is yet to come. In Marga’s room, we see the creepy soldier preparing to rape Marga, but not the act itself. Marga turns her head to the clock and time for her slows down. In the end, the creepy soldier tells her he’s returning the next evening to do it again.
Marga waits for him to leave before starting to cry. She now realizes that this night is what Gerta and Herr Trutz were warning her about. Gerta even used the word rape to describe what would happen back in Episode 1. This isn’t an “I told you so” moment; it’s a moment of realizing that everything Marga was told about the Lebensborn was lies and propaganda. She’s now forced to spend more time with the creepy soldier with no clear way out, and is so traumatized that she doesn’t even want to eat.
The goal of World On Fire has been to show individual civilians suffering from the horrors of war from multiple perspectives. Marga’s story is also not the first time that the series has dealt with rape and sexual assault, as Kasia was threatened by Nazi soldiers in Season 1. While some may argue that all depictions of rape and sexual assault in period dramas should end, it is a disservice to conflate period dramas based on biographies such as World On Fire with romance/historical fiction period dramas such as Poldark, Outlander, and Bridgerton that purposely blur the lines between consensual sex and rape. This episode showed considerable restraint in how much the audience saw and heard what was happening to Marga.
This storyline is also covering important historical information: Season 1 depicted Nazi eugenics programs from the point of view of murdering the disabled. The Lebensborn is the other part of that story. There was some reporting about the program while the war was happening, but other aspects of the program were only revealed many years later once the children born from the program sued for compensation.
What will happen if Marga ends up pregnant? Is there any possibility of her escaping the Lebensborn? We’ll have to watch next week’s World On Fire to find out.