A Legacy That's Hard To Live With
It's hard to imagine what it might be like to be born the progeny of holocaust perpetrators, and to grow up with the knowledge that your forebears were responsible for one of the most harrowing genocides in human history. Hitler's Children focuses on several of the heirs of members of Adolph Hitler's high command, and reveals the shame and anguish that their ancestral legacy has caused them throughout their lives.
Hitler had no children of his own, but most of the members of his high command had offspring who grew up within the Third Reich's inner circle, some of them in the presence of Hitler, others living in the very shadow of the chimneys that towered over Nazi extermination camps.
They were children, and they were not responsible for creating or carrying out Nazi policies towards Jews, Poles, homosexuals and others who were persecuted and slaughtered by the Germans during World War II, yet they bear their families names and genes, have personal memories of the Third Reich and events associated with the holocaust, and they now live their lives with the full knowledge of their ancestral legacy of evil.
Cast of characters
In Hitler's Children, filmmaker Chanoch Zeevi interviews the the descendants of offspring of several of Hitler's cohorts, including two who've never before spoken out about the way they feel about their family legacy, and how it has impacted their consciousness and their circumstances. Their gut wrenching stories represent another aspect of the holocaust. They, too. are its victims.
.Bettina Göring, who is the the great-niece of Hermann Göring, confides that she found her lineage so shameful and painful that she had herself sterilized so she couldn't pass her family genes on to any children of her own.
Rainer Hoess, the grandson of Herman Hoess, the man who built and ran Auschwitz, revisits his childhood home, a lovely country cottage that was separated from his grandfather's infamous camp by a tall concrete wall. Hoess speaks with a group of Jewish children, listening to their stories about what their families suffered during the holocaust, and sharing with them his own struggle to reconcile his father's descriptions of the happy times spent in his childhood home with what he now knows to have taken place on the other side of the wall.
Others who are interviewed for the film have already spoken out about their backgrounds, not to apologize for or seek exoneration of their ancestors, but mostly in efforts to keep the memory of their evil doing in public awareness. 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, the great great-niece of Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's second in command, has written books about her struggles to live with her family heritage, while Monika Goeth, daughter of Plaszow Concentration Camp commander Amon Goeth, and Niklas Franck, son of Polish Governor-General Hans Franck, keep the memory of their forebear's evil doings alive by studying the Third Reich extensively and lecturing widely about their forebears' crimes against humanity.
The interviews are up close and personal, and very affecting.
But, the film also shows that not all descendants of members of Hitler's elite have similarly acknowledged their family ties, and that denial of guilt and culpability is stance. They've hidden family truths from their children long after the war was over, and even to the present day.
From Personal Stories to Larger Issues
This is an extremely important film because it sheds light on an aspect of the holocaust and of any incident of genocide that is rarely considered.
Using the specific stories and circumstances of these particular children of Hitler's high ranking officials and officers, the film investigates larger themes of guilt and guilt by association, family ties and legacy, and how memory can be influenced history rewritten. These issues, as raised in the film, are very timely, as citizens around the world face the challenges of reconciliation following incidents of genocide in their countries.
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- Title: Hitler's Children
- Director: Chanock Zeevi
- U.S. Theatrical Release Date: November 14, 2012, in limited release/
- Running Time: 59 minutess.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Production Company: Maya Productions
- US Theatrical Distribution Company: Film Movement
- Filming Locations: USA, Poland
- Language: English, Hebrew and German, with English subtitles