This documentary examines the descendants of high rank senior Nazi officers from Hitler’s inner circle and how they've struggled with the burden of carrying their infamous surnames.
JEWISH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Hitler’s Children explores the themes of guilt, memory, family ties and identity with a profound simplicity that quickly gets very raw, at times overwhelmingly so. Challenging the direct descendants of Hitler’s upper echelon to bare their souls and share the impact of their bloodline, Chanoch Ze’evi explores deceit and sorrow on both a personal and national level against the backdrop of the 20th century’s most notorious act of genocide.
a stark but superbly crafted documentary
Several of those taking part had already accepted their family history and taken high-profile stances, mostly to keep the actions of their ancestors alive and not let the memory of Jewish suffering diminish in any way. Katrin Himmler has become an author, penning books that describe her struggle living a life as the great-niece of Hitler’s second in command, Heinrich Himmler; Niklas Franck has committed to a life educating school-age Germans of the role his father, Polish Governor-General Hans Frank, played in the establishment of the ghetto structure and the extermination camps in that country; Monika Goeth speaks of a life spent seeking information and comprehension of the horrors perpetrated by her father, Plaszów Concentration Camp commandant Amon Goeth (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List).
Two of the participants, however, describe the experience of confronting their heritage from a fresh, clear perspective. Bettina Göring, the great-niece of Hermann Göring whose face contorts whenever she has to say her own name, reveals how the pain of her lineage led to self-sterilisation. The other is Rainer Hoess, the grandson of the man who envisaged and finally oversaw Auschwitz, Herman Hoess. Along with an Israeli Jew, journalist Eldad Beck, Rainer revisits the idyllic villa that was his early home, a perfect family environment situated behind a large concrete wall and a wire gate. Over this wall was the death camp. The young man, struggling to join the joyous memories his father would paint of his childhood here with the systemic slaughter his grandfather ordered, confronts a room full of Jewish school students and their chaperones. His reaction to their stories and the gathering’s acceptance of his sorrow and forgiveness is utterly gut-wrenching.
Technically, Hitler’s Children is a stark but superbly crafted documentary, with Ze’evi’s camera providing a close-up intimacy that rarely impacts the unfolding real-life drama. The interplay of the five subjects captures a commonality of shame in their families’ past; a scathing mention is also made of the wives and extended families, nationalistic to a fault, who kept the atrocities a secret from their children, often well after the war had ended.
The importance of the film will grow as time puts greater distance between the present and the dark past. To paraphrase Nicklas Franck: modern society cannot be trusted, and there is always a risk of the tide of public opinion tipping back to exclusionist policies. Hitler’s Children shouldn’t have to educate future generations of what humans are capable of, but it’s far better that the film exists to remind us not to forget.