Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: My Nazi Legacy

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: My Nazi Legacy

Article excerpt

My Nazi Legacy

PG, Key Cities and on demand at Curzon Home Cinema

This is a documentary in which three men travel across Europe together, but they're not pleasurably interrailing, even though there are often times they probably wished they were. For two of them, Niklas and Horst, the journey is about confronting their fathers, who were high-ranking Nazi officials responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews, while for the third, the eminent British human-rights lawyer Philippe Sands, it means visiting the place where his grandfather's family was exterminated. This place, Galicia, which straddles the modern-day border between Poland and Ukraine, is the exact place my own grandmother's family were murdered. Her father lost every one of his seven siblings. She lost every aunt, uncle and cousin. And so I would wish to ask Niklas and Horst what Sands does ask Niklas and Horst: how do you feel about your father being this sort of man? It is a horribly gripping question, just as this is a horribly gripping film.

Sands was writing a book about international law, and its origins in the Nuremberg trials, when he first came across Niklas and Horst, who are now in their seventies. Niklas is the son of Hans Frank, who was governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland, which came to include Galicia. He was known as 'the butcher of Poland'. Horst is the son of Otto von Wächter, one of Hans's deputies and governor of Krakow and then Galicia. Between 1939 (when both Niklas and Horst were born) and 1945, they were basically mass murdering by day and returning to their families in the evening. But while one son accepts what his father was, the other will not, and therein lies the riveting tension.

In a way, Niklas has it the most easy, as hating his father was never much of an effort. You suspect he'd have hated his father even if his father had only ever been a fishmonger. Hans was cold and cruel. Hans, for some years, even denied Niklas was his. Niklas has no problem condemning his father absolutely. 'I despise him,' he says. 'He was a coward,' he says. His father disgusts him so totally that, at all times, he carries a photograph of his dead body, taken moments after he was hanged at Nuremberg, 'so I can see justice was done'. …

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