But many of his top Nazi conspirators, like Goering, Himmler, and Hoess, did. This powerful and haunting documentary, “Hitler’s Children,” directed by Israeli Chanoch Ze’evi, features children, now adults, who grew up with a legacy of being descendants of the greatest mass murderers in history.
Not only is this multiple award-winning film compelling and emotional, but so is the origin of the project. In 1933, Ze’evi’s grandmother emigrated from Warsaw to Palestine. In 1939, she planned to return for a visit but changed her mind upon discovering she was pregnant. Had she made the trip Ze’evi never would have been born as his grandmother’s entire family in Poland died in the concentration camps.
Cut to 60 years later. While researching a documentary for German TV, Ze’evi found himself drinking coffee in the apartment of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary. “She didn’t even hide that she still admired Hitler,” he said.
That event triggered Ze’evi’s decision to capture in his film “a dialogue between the victims and the perpetrators.” The result is his newly-released “Hitler’s Children,” which features interviews with five descendants of high-ranking Nazis.
Niklas Frank is the introspective son of Hans Frank, the governor-general of occupied Poland who was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Niklas also had the additional burden of being Hitler’s godson. Guilt-ridden through adulthood, he volunteers at German high schools, reading gripping anecdotes from his book which documents his childhood and the evil deeds of his father.
Frank painfully remembers being taken to a concentration camp and roaring with laughter at skinny inmates falling off a donkey. Understandably, he’s unable to “honor thy mother and father.” Instead, with each talk he gives, he “executes them for what they did.” (Balancing that is a touching scene of Frank with his only child, a mother with children of her own, that Frank and his wife play with and adore.)
As an adult, Bettina Goering, grand-niece of Hermann Goering, chose to have herself sterilized. Her brother did the same and described it as “cutting the line,” so that no more Goerings would follow. Frank and Goering are two of the five remarkably intriguing stories.
Making the film itself was a long and exceptionally difficult process. Ze’evi’s research took over a year in just finding people willing to be interviewed.
“Some of them just slammed down the phone, others asked us to never call again,” he said.
Ze’evi tried to explain to potential participants that he did not plan to attack them. “With horrible pictures from the Holocaust it can appear that you blame them, even though they are only the descendants.”
Those who were interviewed have a common bond. Each seems driven to talk about his or her family’s shame. And I suppose not surprisingly, many still love their father, and some, disturbingly, still hold Nazi ideology. For example, Frank’s sister emigrated to South Africa where she lived until she passed away and was always quite comfortable with the apartheid regime. Frank is the last surviving member of the five siblings.
Perhaps the most troubled and yet most likable of the descendants is Rainer Hoess, the grandson of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess. In the movie he looks with horror at his childhood pictures, including those of his father. Rainer, age 5, seen playing in a beautiful toy car made by one of the camp prisoners who surely was eventually exterminated.
Later in the film Rainer talks to a group of Jewish schoolchildren and bursts into tears upon being embraced by an elderly Holocaust survivor. The feeble elderly man reassures him, “You weren’t there, and you didn’t do it.”
“Hitler’s Children” isn’t perfect nor is it for everyone. But, for the right audience, which admittedly includes me, it’s a brilliant film and one I will not soon forget.
Running 80 minutes, “Hitler’s Children” is available at filmmovement.com, and through major retailers such as Amazon, Amazon Instant Video, Redbox and Netflix.
Jack’s Laughing Matters column runs every Friday and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.