Hitler’s Children

The BBC screened a fascinating programme last night, called “Hitler’s Children”. It explored how people find a way to live with knowing that their fathers or grandfathers were leading Nazis in Hitler’s Germany, responsible for cruelty and mass killing. Responses included sterilisation ‘to cut the line’, writing and speaking against a father’s acts, moving away from Germany, and – most moving – carrying the burden on in the 3rd generation. This last guy went to Auschwitz with an Israeli whose family was killed there, visited the house and idyllic garden where his father grew up as a child; through the gate were the gas chambers. He stood in front of Jewish visitors to the camp, accepting their grief. An old man who was a survivor of the camp stood up to tell him, “It was not you” and connected with him, person to person, by shaking his hand.

Niklas Frank was Hitler’s godchild. He has spent his life finding out about his father’s actions in the Nazi regime. We saw him speaking to school children, voicing the strongest emotions with a sad, unmoving face. This made the last scene all the more moving when his daughter told him how he had helped remove the burden of guilt for her by his relentless work, how he was for her “a fortress”.

We know that de-humanising the other can be done very swiftly, enabling the very worst of violence against people who have become for their killers more object or animal than human. This film showed how the reverse process of re-humanising may take generations. And it showed empathy in action supporting the very best of human behaviour.

The film is on i-player for 6 more days. And there are some scenes on YouTube if you are outside of UK. And from this report, it looks as if it will be on release in USA.

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