The final film I watched at the festival was a great documentary called My Nazi Legacy. The film follows human rights lawyer Philippe Sands who meets the sons of leading SS figures instrumental in atrocities that killed around three million Polish Jews. The sons, Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, create an interesting contrast right from the very beginning of the documentary. Frank grew up neglected by his father and believes there is no redemption for the man, heightened by his conviction and ultimate hanging at Nuremberg in 1945. By contrast, Wächter has lives his whole 76 years believing his father was an honourable man, partially due to his happy childhood and partially because he believes that his father attempted to convince Hitler not to put into place The Final Solution in German occupied Poland. It also doesn’t help that Wächter’s father received shelter from The Vatican and was never proven guilty in court.
This intriguing contrast between both men is accentuated by the conceit that the Philippe Sands’ grandfather had his whole family murdered under the authority of both Germans’ fathers in German occupied Poland. Thereby, the documentary concedes that neither fathers were honourable and explores the emotional chasm through which Wächter attempts to redeem his father despite evidence to the contrary. We bear witness to papers signed by Wächter’s father ordering the construction of Nazi ghettos in German occupied Poland, papers that Sands concedes would be ‘game over’ in any court of law.
What is really interesting about the documentary is the way in which each son’s experience of childhood informs their understanding of their fathers’ morality. One cannot help but feel a tinge of sympathy for Wächter, who in his ignorance and memories of a ‘good’ paternal figure refuses to acknowledge the horrific actions of his father. By his own refusal, there seems to be a hidden acknowledgement of his father’s crimes and My Nazi Legacy knocks down the veneer of paternity to reveal the atrocities that people are capable of by order.
My Nazi Legacy is in cinemas November 20.
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