“We have to remember. We must never forget. But we also have to move on.”
Since the end of WWII, thousands of accounts have emerged detailing the horrors of the Holocaust. All of them worth seeing, most of them graphically disturbing, and some particularly poignant. All of this can be said about director Chanoch Zeevi‘s documentary, Hitler’s Children. It’s quite possibly the most gripping documentary I’ve yet set about the Holocaust. You simply must see it.
Zeevi has tracked down five descendents of high ranking, powerful Nazi officials with one purpose: to examine the effects of an inherited legacy.
Bettina Goering is the grandniece of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s designated successor and the second man in the Third Reich. To this, I give you a very quiet, “yeah,” because with a lineage that steeped in Nazi flavor it would be practically unimaginable to live a “normal” life anywhere, especially in Germany. That’s why, after suffering numerous breakdowns throughout her 20’s she left Germany and headed to the United States. Off the grid and living in the natural beauty of New Mexico, Bettina discussed at length the lasting effects of her family’s background.
Together, with her brother, as the last two remaining descendants of Goering, the siblings to have surgical sterilization procedures. Her brother said, “I cut the line.” This moment in the film is among the most powerful, not only because of the sibling’s united decision to end the family line, but there is a sadness as well. After all, they are willingly denying themselves one of the greatest joys of life – parenthood.
Rainer Hoess is the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz. Here is a man who, while acting as commander of Auschwitz, wrote poetry about the beauty of the camp and, behind a beautiful wrought iron gate, lived with his family only steps from the horrors being committed. He raised his children there, only feet behind the walls of Auschwitz, the epicenter of what has been called the 20th century’s most depraved events.
Rainer’s father, Hans-Rudolf, was raised at Auschwitz, played with toys created by the camp’s prisoners, and ate food that was grown as the ash from nearby crematoriums fell upon it. It is during Rainer’s visit to Auschwitz, after repeatedly being denied entry due to his lineage, that the film grants a rare glimpse into this other world – the world inhabited by his grandfather and father. I, like the journalist who accompanies him, feel as though everything happens too quickly for Rainer – the epiphany, the guilt, the anger, the forgiveness.
Katrin Himmler is the niece of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo. The man responsible for setting up the first concentration camp in Dachau, a camp I visited in 1992, committed suicide shortly after his capture. Katrin, who wrote a book entitled “The Himmler Brothers”, like the other men and women featured in Hitler’s Children struggles with what it means to be a descendant of great evil.
In a moment of crystalline wisdom, Katrin discusses how she has felt about carrying the blood of Himmler in her veins, as if it might make her naturally evil, or bad in some way. She says that if she were to believe blood and genetics carried such things with it from generation to generation she’d be proving the Nazis theories. She speaks at length about the difficulties now faced by young Germans when travelling abroad, including the shame and discomfort, and their attempts to blend in and appear like Dutch or Swedes … simply anything and anyone, as long as it has nothing to do with being German.
There is an overwhelming sense from the film that there is no tried and true way for coping with the reality of our ancestor’s actions. A first step is but to unearth the truth. But how, then, does one go about reconciling that truth with the love and duty required of a child, or a nephew, or a niece? Many of those followed in the film discuss an inability to square the realities of what their ancestors had done with the teachings of their religions. Honor they mother and father. Okay … but how?
Perhaps the most angry of all those followed in Hitler’s Children is the son of Hans Frank, author and speaker Niklas Frank. A man in his senior years, Frank spends his time traveling from school to school, speaking with children about his experiences growing up in WWII, inside the Third Reich. At times, Frank’s words are so acidic, so venomous you can’t help but feel his rage. As all children want to be loved by their parents, how then does one ever get a grip on the tremendous hate and evil perpetrated by them?
Portrayed by Ralph Fienes in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, Amon Goeth was the commandant of Plaszow, a work camp. There, Goeth systematically murdered tens of thousands of people, some, purportedly for sport. His daughter, Monika, recounts her experiences learning about her father’s role in WWII and her attempts to understand. Having never known her father personally, Monika was born just ten months prior to his execution, learning her father was responsible for such monumental destruction and suffering was incomprehensible.
Hitler’s Children succeeds as a documentary because it doesn’t shy away from the hard questions and those that refuse easy answers. Beautifully shot and thoroughly considered, Hitler’s Children provides insight into a typically dark corner of WWII history. It’s not afraid of making you uncomfortable, or it’s subjects. Sometimes, it is only through confrontation that we can expose the truth and begin to heal.
It may seem obvious to you or me that these men and women are not to blame for the actions of those who came before them. But, to them, the guilt and shame is never ending and inescapable; a legacy that will stretch the length of time it takes the human race to forget. And we will never forget.
Watch the Documentary, Online:
Official Site: Hilter’s Children documentary