This morning I watched a movie on Netflix called Hitler’s Children. It consists of interviews with and presentations of descendants of some of the highest-ranking Nazis. None are literally Hitler’s descendants, of course, but they include descendants or close relatives of Himmler, Goering, and Höss, mostly two generations removed.
I wanted to find something to bridge the huge difference between the Germany that I know and the Germany of the Nazis, and I found something of that. It was hard to watch. All of the people presented had repudiated and spoken against their Nazi forbears, but they mentioned having relatives who just wanted to forget the whole thing, or in some cases who still supported the Nazis. I’m sure there were many more people who wanted no part in the documentary than agreed to be in it.
What did I learn from it? One thing was that the distance between ordinary daily life and monstrous actions can be very small. The family of a concentration camp commander lived right outside it and lived a normal life, paying little attention to it. Some people had the truth concealed from them; one woman’s mother told her that her father governed a “work camp,” not a death camp, and she learned the truth only years later from a survivor of the camp.
I saw that these were Germans not very different from ones I know, closely connected without choice to people who’d done horrible things and having to deal with it. That’s not quite right; they had the choice to deal with it or ignore it, and others in their families had chosen to turn their backs on it. By speaking about it, they showed that blood isn’t destiny (one of them explicitly made that point) and helped me to understand what Germans have to bear.
Usually I go through a bunch of edits on my posts, but I’m going to put this up in one shot, then go off and see if I can stop shaking.