Hitler's Children - A Journey Out of the Dark
The Holocaust's Unknown Victims
The Holocaust. Even saying the word aloud invokes images of the horror that has become known to the whole world. Six million Jews were systematically exterminated at the hands of the Nazis. Medical experiments of a diabolical nature were employed on the weak and the helpless. The Jews were not the only victims of the Nazi regime of terror. They also set their sights on the infirm, the homosexuals, the gypsies and political rivals. But there are a number of other unsung victims in this war. You rarely hear their stories. You rarely hear their names mentioned. You never see their faces - until now. These are the children of the Nazi regime - the children of the men most notoriously associated with Nazi ideals. The children who have been stigmatized and hated because of the crimes of their parents, grandparents and uncles. This documentary shines a light in the dark and tells the stories of those nameless, faceless people that the world forgot - and it does it in a way that will make forgetting impossible in the present - and moving forward.
Living with a Bloody, Tainted Name
Goring. Himmler. Hoess. Frank. Goeth. These names are familiar to anyone well-acquainted with the history of World War II. In this brave and illuminating documentary, you enter into the lives of those tainted by the war - not because of their Jewish heritage, but because of their family name. Bettina Goring is none other than the great-niece of Hermann Goring - a high ranking and notorious Nazi. She is joined by the great-niece of Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's second in command. The grandson of Rudolph Hoess (notorious for running the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp responsible for the murder of millions) goes on a heartbreaking but revealing journey of discovery - back to Auschwitz in the company of a third generation Auschwitz survivor. Monika Goeth is the daughter of notorious Nazi war criminal Amon Goeth - made famous (or infamous) in his depiction in the film Schindler's List. All of these voices share a story - a story that has been long buried in the pages of history by those who want nothing to do with hearing the story from a different view. These children are survivors too. They have to live with the stigma of their names, no matter how removed from the events they happen to be. Some have escaped the negativity of Europe to begin a new life elsewhere. Others have dug in and endured the hardships as much as possible. Several have written books. Several speak publicly about their memories and their experiences. Many of them had a family member ultimately executed for their crimes against humanity during the war. These voices are rare - and they have a story that is worth sharing. It is worth remembering that the Holocaust in general had a lot more victims than is often believed - victims that were guilty of no more wrongdoing than just their surname.
Unfortunately, these children (now adults) are often overlooked in the study of World War II and the holocaust. They are some of the untold victims who never got the chance to tell their side of the story and get their experiences out in the open - until now. While their voices may be raised in silence and the impression of distrust, it becomes imperative to listen to them without preconceived judgement and to understand that those persecuted by the Nazi state are not the only victims of the atrocities carried out by the Third Reich.
Would You Watch this Documentary?
Emotional Moments and Digging for the Truth
I was touched by the recollections of Monika Goeth. Her mother didn't want to discuss her father's wrongdoings throughout the war. She told her daughter that he ran a work camp - not an extermination camp, although Goeth is notorious for killing several thousand Jews - 500 at least by his own hand. His depiction in Schindler's list (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes) is one of the most chilling characters of the film - and it is historically accurate. He used to stand on the balcony with a high-powered rifle, aiming and shooting at Jewish passers-by. Monika was told to never believe these stories - until one day she uncovered the truth for herself. She tells the story of being in a tavern in Munich. She was on friendly terms with the barman, only to discover that he was a survivor of Plaszow camp. When he found out who her father was, she was invited to never return.
As she continued her journey to uncover the truth, she found herself traveling alone to watch the release of Schindler's list - in which her father is so aptly and horrifically portrayed. Watching the film was enough to put her in a state of shock, and i cannot imagine the courage and the resolve that it must have taken to walk into that theater - and walk out of it, knowing the truth yet determined to live past it and to find a way to resolve her past with her future.
The most touching moment of the film, however, came for me at the end. Rainer Hoess is the grandson of Rudolph Hoess - the notorious Auschwitz commander. He took a long, hard journey back to Auschwitz, hoping against all hope that he would not be recognized - and he was in the company of a third-generation Auschwitz survivor. As they toured the grounds, they matched up old family photographs with different locations. They encountered a tour of Jewish students, and Rainer was called out and identified by the leader during one of their lessons on the grounds. Rainer bravely went to the front of the classroom and answered questions, faced accusations, tears and understandable anger. Then, a small voice spoke from the back of the room. An Auschwitz survivor was in attendance - and he wanted to shake Rainer's hand. As this old, brave and strong man slowly made his way to the front, he came face to face with the grandson of the man who was ultimately responsible for the atrocities that were committed in Auschwitz. The old man hugged Rainer - and reassured him. He told him that he was not responsible for what took place there, and that he should feel no guilt for what happened. It was one of the most touching moments I have ever had the privilege to witness, and it's not something that I will soon forget.
This documentary is not an easy one to watch - but it is a necessary one. It gives a voice to those who have been voiceless for several decades, and it demonstrates that each story has multiple sides to it. I highly recommend it to anyone - regardless of where they stand in history. It's an important work, and it's a project that deserves far more attention than it's gotten.
This is not a feel-good documentary. It was born and raised in bloodshed, although it was often kept from the people who it highlights in the film. The pain, agony and horror that these people have had to live through as they journeyed from childhood to adulthood is an important testament to the strength of the human spirit and triumph (often in unconventional ways) over the hurdles that are often unwillingly thrown in our paths. While I cannot imagine the hardships these few people have had to face, I empathize with their experience. Hearing directly from them about their experience and their struggles has shed new light on a dark time in human history, and although the story may be unpleasant, it is important that it is heard - especially now - lest the memory fade into infamy or be forgotten altogether.
© 2013 Julie McFarland