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Hitler's Children: Film Review

Hitler's Children Chanoch Ze'evi Film Still - H 2012

The Bottom Line

Haunting documentary about the descendants  of top Nazi leaders struggling to endure their horrific legacy. 

Director

Chanoch Ze'evi

Chanoch Ze'evi's documentary follows the descendants of notorious Nazi figures as they struggle to live with their lineage.

Chronicling the emotional struggles of five descendants of top Nazi figures to overcome the horrific legacy of the “sins of their fathers,” Israeli filmmaker Chanoch Ze’evi’s Hitler’s Childen is a haunting addition to the Holocaust film canon. Few will be unmoved by this film’s subjects, including the great niece of Herman Goering and the daughter of concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth, as they relate the heavy burdens stemming from their fateful lineage.

Katrin Himmler, the great niece of Heinrich Himmler, principal architect of the death camps, describes how she learned several languages so she could more effectively hide her German roots. She married an Israeli Jew, the son of Holocaust survivors, and wrote a book that was cathartic for her even as it alienated many of her family members.

The elderly Niklas Frank, the son of the governor general of occupied Poland Hans Frank, has devoted his life to excoriating his father via a scathing book and educational lectures to German schoolchildren about his crimes.

Several of the subjects have clearly suffered greatly, such as Bettina Goring — bearing an eerie resemblance to Herman -- who retreated to a reclusive life outside the grid in New Mexico and who casually comments that both she and her brother underwent sterilization so as to end their family’s bloodline.

Monika Goeth, whose father was brought to notorious prominence when he was played onscreen by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, relates how she was initially unaware of her father’s true role at the camp until she made a casual remark about him when meeting a survivor, only to be met with a horrified reaction. One of the film’s more harrowing moments is her description of suffering a panic attack while watching Spielberg film’s in a Nuremberg movie theater.

Perhaps the most pathetic figure on display is Rainer Hoess, the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz. Looking with horror at childhood pictures of his father, who grew up right outside the camp, playing in a toy car made by one of its prisoners, he later makes a visit to Auschwitz accompanied by Israeli journalist Eldad Beck, where he’s afraid of being recognized. In a later segment featuring him talking to a group of Jewish schoolchildren, he bursts into tears upon being embraced by an elderly Holocaust survivor who reassures him, “You weren’t there, you didn’t do it.”  The fleeting moment doesn’t seem like it will be enough to assuage his irrational guilt.

Opens: Friday, Nov. 16 (Film Movement)
Production: Maya Productions, Saxonia Entertainment
Director/producer: Chanoch Ze’evi
Executive producer: Phillippa Kowarsky
Director of photography: Yoram Millo
Editor: Arik Lahav Liebovitz
Music: Ophir Leibovitch
Not rated, 80 min