Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hitler's Children

If movies have taught me anything, it's don't be a Nazi. I mean, except for Intolerable CrueltyInglorius Basterds. I'm pretty sure that was about how the Jews were the bad guys in WWII. But Tarantino is an outlier. Most movies with Nazis portray them as bad guys. Well, okay, there's Verhoeven's Black Book, but if you keep throwing exceptions at me, we'll never get to this latest documentary about what a bad things being a Nazi is.

Or in this case, what a bad thing it is to be the child of a Nazi. Or grandchild. Though, at least as far as this movie is concerned, it's not that the children are bad but that they have to deal with some pretty impressive family baggage.

Nazis don't make good parents, it turns out. Apparently, the sort of emotional states that allow one to kill thousands of innocent, defenseless people en masse are not conducive to the kind of nurturing that produces healthy children.

Color me shocked.

This is an interesting documentary but strange. A big part of it—and I'm going to struggle a bit here because I saw this a few weeks ago and am just now getting around to writing about it—involves a guy who's going to see the house where his father grew up. A walled cottage that happened to abut a concentration camp. Maybe even the ovens.

So, yeah, freaky.

At the same time, I had a little difficulty absorbing the guilt. This poor fellow really felt, at some level, responsible for the actions of his grandparents. And, maybe even weirder, he's accompanied by a Jewish journalist who's a "third generation Holocaust survivor".

I've never used an emoticon in a review, but maybe now's the time:

:-/

It's not that I doubt that that the Holocaust echoes down through the generations. And I whole-heartedly endorse efforts to keep awareness of it in the public light. The phrasing makes me a little queasy: You're not a third generation survivor—you're the grandchild of a survivor. If you applied the naming consistently to children of Hoess and Himmler, they'd be third generation genocidal maniacs. And that ain't right.

That's part of what makes this whole thing weird. The Holocaust happened. It's great that a survivor can hug the grandchild of the Nazi who imprisoned him—and this was touching—but that changes none of the facts. They'll always be descendants of Nazis and imprisoned Jews.

The third generation survivor accompanying the grandchild to the camp sort of underscored this. He escorts and narrates and records the journey, but receives no release from the adventure himself. I applaud the honesty, but it does punctuate the whole thing with a question mark.

And, of course, there's a natural tendency to side with the ones going around and talking about it, or writing books against their more reticent siblings. On the one hand, you have those who are still kinda a little Nazi-ish. But on the other, you have to assume that there are those who just want to live their lives not in that shadow.

It held our interest, The Boy and I, but—well, thinking about it, America is a land where the people have no history. I have been at parties where there were relatives of survivors and relatives of Nazis. It's just the sort of thing that happens here.

So, I don't know. Interesting without being insightful, but maybe because there aren't a lot of insights to be had.

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