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Wachter proud of Nazi dad

By Uriel Heilman

IT'S hard not to get emotional watching A Nazi Legacy: What our Fathers Did.

But unlike many Holocaust documentaries, the overwhelming feelings aren't sadness and loss, though there are those, too. They are exasperation and anger.

In the film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, British Jewish lawyer Philippe Sands tells the story of two men, both the children of high-ranking Nazi figures.

Niklas Frank is the son of Hans Frank, Hitler's lawyer and the governor general of Nazi-occupied Poland.

The elder Frank was hanged in 1946 after being found guilty at Nuremberg for complicity in the murder of Poland's three million Jews.

Horst von Wachter is the son of Otto von Wachter, an Austrian who served as the Nazi governor of Galicia (now Lviv, Ukraine) and died in hiding in 1949 while under the Vatican's protection.

Frank, an author and journalist, is well known in Germany due to his controversial 1987 best-seller, The Father: A Settling of Accounts, which detailed his revulsion toward the man who became known as the Butcher of Poland.

In his wallet, Frank keeps a photograph of his father's corpse taken right after he was hanged.

By contrast, Wachter holds his own father in high esteem, refusing to acknowledge his role in the mass murder of the Jews, even as Sands presents him with increasingly clear and disturbing evidence of it.

Sands narrates the story of what happens when a son's love for his father collides with the immutable facts of history.

Both Frank and Wachter - who knew each other as children and have remained friends - were born in 1939.

Wachter describes an idyllic childhood shattered by Germany's defeat in 1945. In his home, he shows Sands a family photo album that intersperses shots of family outings with photos of his father and his Nazi associates.

There's his father with Heinrich Himmler, the SS military commander. Under another photo, the scrawl reads 'AH' (Adolf Hitler).

"I was transported back 70 years to the heart of an appalling regime, but Horst was looking at these images with a different eye from mine," Sands narrates.

"I see a man who's probably been responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of Jews and Poles. Horst looks at the same photographs and he sees a beloved father playing with the children and he's thinking that was family life."

By contrast, Frank's memories of his parents are mostly bitter.

"My father loved Hitler more than his family," Frank says.

Frank recalls visiting the Krakow ghetto as a young boy with his mother, who went to "shop" for furs because she knew the Jews could not refuse whatever price she named.

"My father really deserved to die at the gallows," he says.

The three men visit the remains of the synagogue where Sands' own family likely spent their last Shabbat before the synagogue was burned to the ground by Nazis under the command of Wachter's father.

All along, Wachter cannot bring himself to acknowledge his father's crimes, offering one excuse after another and relying on vague generalities to rebut evidence that he bore responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews.

Otto von Wachter established the Jewish ghetto in Lviv, then known as Lemberg. He ran the transportation that shipped Jews off to concentration camps. He passed up Himmler's offer to return to his native Vienna, choosing to stay put and see his job through.

"He was absolutely somebody who wanted to do something good," Wachter says. "His fault was that he believed Hitler would change his politics."

One scene sees the three men visit the killing field in Galicia where some 3,500 Jews were shot by the Nazis and Sands' own family members met their fate.

"There must be tens of thousands of Austrians lying [dead] around here, too," Wachter argues. "I see this as a battlefield, you see."


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