Hitler’s Children – Stories of Despair, Responsibility, and Redemption
This movie offers a powerful story of family responsibility, redemption, and forgiveness. The children and grandchildren of Hitler’s accomplices, Himmler, Goering, Goeth, Frank, Hoess, & Beck, tell their stories. It’s about intergenerational family trauma; the power of healing through reconstructed narrative which promotes neural integration; community versus isolation; forgiveness and non-forgiveness; shame, anger and love… all with an interesting ending.
For me, as a family law attorney, one of the biggest challenges in difficult cases is understanding how to break the intergenerational cycle of harm caused by attachment trauma and parents with dysfunctional personality patterns. The stories of these “children” provide a compelling and varied response to this problem.
The story and the ending…. (spoiler alert)
The film leads us on a journey of different responses to the heritage of horror. Some of these adults neutered themselves or committed suicide, and some made families. Some hid from their past, and some sought mastery by boldly bringing their parents’ pasts out into the light with a book and speeches. From both the German and Jewish perspectives, the film maker asks at the end if the stories of redemption and forgiveness bring a happy or sad ending. He suggests there is no ending. There is simply the ongoing struggle for acceptance and understanding.
Except there was one story that seemed to have an ending. One child was Niklas Frank. His father was Hans Frank, the German Governor-General of Poland, who was responsible for all of the ghettos and death camps in Poland. Niklas dedicated his life to researching his father’s behavior and ultimately wrote a book violently denouncing him, partly out of his own shame and anger, and partly to prove to himself, his siblings, and the world that his father had done bad things. He said he could not honor his parents as directed in the 4th Commandment, nor forgive them. He gave speech after speech, and he felt “each time I execute my parents anew.” Still, he recognized that he was desperate for the love of his parents, and he had hoped that he would find one shred of something positive his father had done. He said he could not find it, yet. A never ending story, except….
In the course of filming, there was a touching scene between Niklas and his daughter. Niklas asked her if she ever thought of her grandfather Hans. She said not really, and went on to offer an explanation Niklas had not heard before. She said that Niklas, her father, had paved the way (out of the horror) for her. Her pride for her father and his book, research and lectures, which all provided a full and honest accounting of her grandfather’s unspeakable actions, built a healthy barrier that protected her. She felt her father had defeated her grandfather, and the barrier he built allowed her to let her grandfather “fade away.” She said this: “I thought that when you are descended from bad people, you are also touched by evil. You took that load off me. For me, you are my fortress.”