In Saving Private Ryan Corporal Upham fails to save his comrades, due to fear. He freezes in the stairs and the German soldier comes from the top floor, sees him, and moves past him.

Why didn't the German soldier just point and shoot at him? It would seem like the safest move.

And would have actually saved his life.

4 Answers 4


The soldier had just fought for his life, brutally killing another man. He walks down the stairs and he sees an impotent combatant. He sees a man who just let his fellow soldier die. This guy is no threat to the soldier and, what's more, he's actually a potential danger to his fellow men.

Additionally, there's no reason to kill him - if Upham was going to kill the German, he would have done it to save his fellow soldier. The German knew that and was probably already traumatized by running a knife through someone.

  • 9
    Other than that, there's also the human element. Many men were drafted, some of whom were unable to actually pull the trigger on another human. Likely, the German soldier has comrades who are similarly impotent. It's not impossible for this German soldier to be equally softhearted: capable of defending himself against the soldier who intends to kill him, but incapable of killing someone who doesn't try to kill him.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 12:26
  • Yes, fair enough and good point. At the time in the movie it would have almost been similar to killing an unarmed combatant. Almost. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 13:25
  • 1
    Not to mention the German figured “you’re going to be a coward, then you don’t deserve death. You deserve to live as a coward”, so he moved on. Like an allegorical “knife” to Uphram...... Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 20:24

It was not uncommon for peaceful one on one encounters like these in WW2 and wars before. The more human instincts often took over when it was one solitary soldier encountering a solitary enemy. This was at least the case with soldiers in Europe. I have heard the Pacific was an entirely different scenario. The Japanese were so aggressive and killing oriented that they would never spare an enemy soldier in such an encounter. It could have something to do with the ethnic divide although I've heard the Japanese were similarly ruthless towards the Chinese. There is something to be said of the mentality and culture of Imperial Japan in those years that made its soldiers and citizens behave in ways contrary to other nations at war.


I thought maybe when Upham was in the building without anyone else, he was confronted by the Germans. They quickly subdued him and threatened to kill him right then and there. They wanted info about his fellow soldiers. And even then, he almost changed his mind and wanted to go up there and kill him but he was still petrified with fear. The last soldier survived, and walked downstairs without even so much as a thought. So yeah, I think he was scared to death and helped set them up a bit.


The German soldier is the one who was captured and released blindfolded. He does not kill Upham because he simply remembers him, and Upham was the soldier who fought the most among them so they would not kill the German because he had given up.

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    – A J
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 4:33
  • Are you sure that is the same German soldier they captured earlier? We actually see this guy later in a totally different scene, where Upham actually shoots him, so I doubt that's the same guy.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 11:16
  • It's not the same guy. Upham fought hard to let that first guy go, and then saw the horror of what the Germans were capable of first-hand. That second guy was just some random soldier. but it allowed Upham to experience being the cause of an American's death. At the end, when he saw the first guy again, out on the battlefield, shooting at Americans and actually hitting the Captain, he became enraged and singled out that German for death. Commented May 1, 2019 at 13:20
  • Funny, I always thought it was the same guy too... maybe all Nazi^H^H^H^HGermans look alike ;)
    – komodosp
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 8:40

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