This extra-ordinary documentary by Israeli director Chanoch Ze’evi, examines the shame and guilt felt by the children, grandchildren, grand-nieces and nephews of Hitler’s senior Nazi commanders, Amon Goeth, Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goering, Hans Frank and Rudolf Hess. Family members struggle to confront the atrocities of their Nazi heritage. The film also features Israeli journalist Eldad Beck, grandson of Holocaust survivors.
The central tension of the movie revolves around the fact that the people being interviewed had nothing to do with what their father or grandfather did; yet within their families, denial of what actually happened is common. The central characters create “normal” lives for themselves, all the while, processing the guilt and shame of their name and the deeds of their parents or grandparents.
Herman Goering’s great-niece Bettina lives off-the-grid in New Mexico. She does not use the “Goering” name, opted for sterilization and celebrates German culture. Heinrich Himmler’s great niece Katrin married the grandson of Holocaust survivors and has written a book about Himmler, much to the consternation of her family. Niklas Frank’s son Hans researches and writes books denouncing his father’s crimes and lectures to school children about his evil father. Amon Goeth’s daughter Monika finds out who her father was and what he did through the movie “Shindler’s List” which takes place in Plaszow. Rudolf Hoess’ grandson Rainer recalls the idyllic family setting of living within the Auschwitz compound. Eldad Beck, 3rd generation Holocaust survivor, accompanies Rainer to Auschwitz and visits the cozy cottage of his grandparents.
The documentary portrays the struggle of these people to confront the atrocities of their past. Noah Berlatsky writes, in his article, The Descendants of Murderers, “The Nazi atrocities and their architects are so thoroughly evil that Niklas and Rainer and Katrin and Bettina have been forced to acknowledge that evil, and to make their lives, in part, about acknowledging it and dealing with it.” In tracking down five descendants of some of Hitler’s closest accomplices, the director, Chanoch Ze’evi, encourages them to talk about how their lineage has affected their lives. Quiet, simple and soaked in sorrow, Hitler’s Children takes a stripped-down approach to an emotionally sophisticated subject (Jeannette Catsoulis, When Dad’s a Nazi monster, How Do You Cope?)
Reviewed by Dolores Luber
These movies are available free from the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library at the JCC.
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