Thursday, 22 November 2012

Hitler’s Children and The Flat

Holocaust reminders are in the cinemas yet again, and some of us never tire of revisiting this mind-melting tale of our recent biped past. I’m not sure if poetry is pointless after Auschwitz as Adorno claimed, but it’s pretty hard to read it in the same old way after immersing oneself in the details.

Arnon Goldfinger’s The Flat tells the bizarre story of an Israeli fellow (himself) who rummages through his late grandmother’s hoards of belongings and finds copies of a Nazi newspaper, Der Angriff (Attack). Justifiably mystified by this, he begins to track down the story of his grandparents’ lifelong friendship with a German couple that began pre-war and was reestablished after the nightmare was over. That the German gentleman in question was a correspondent for this Nazi mouthpiece never interfered with the regular visits between the two couples and joint holidays, a fact the filmmaker grandson finds peculiar, to say the least. I don’t want to spoil the gradual revelations that make the film worth seeing, but it won’t ruin anything to say that the Nazi’s daughter becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the news that good old dad wasn’t just a cog in the evil wheel.

Denial and cover-up is the theme of the other Holocaust film now showing, Hitler’s Children, about the descendants of top Nazis like Goering, Frank and Hoess, and the startling element there is that these daughters, sons and grand-nieces refuse to partake. It’s quite something to see a healthy, clear-eyed young woman named Katrin Himmler speak with brutal frankness about who her granddad was and how she faced it.

Thinking that one’s DNA is eternally corrupted because of the sins of one’s forebears, she points out, is Nazi ideology. Ms. Himmler rejects it, and given that she’s married to an Israeli Jew, she’s obviously not kidding (nor, needless to say, is he). A lot of her relatives don’t feel the same way, and these uniquely disturbing accounts are full of family splits and rejections.

Perhaps most poignant and terrifying are the tales of the now elderly son of Hitler’s governor-general of occupied Poland, Hans Frank (executed after a trial at Nuremberg). Old enough to remember watching cruel games with ghetto prisoners (and worse yet, enjoying them), Niklas Frank wrote books denouncing his parents’ crimes and speaks regularly to high school students. His siblings hate him for it, and one hears the steady pressure, from unheard, off-screen voices, to bury the past and stop saddling the living with disquieting recollections.

Given the success with which many Nazis slipped back into polite society and were never confronted with their collusion, it’s hardly surprising to learn elsewhere that neo-nazi ideology is making a comeback all across Europe, aggravated by the economic train wreck gobbling up one country after another. Banker misdeeds always are easily blamed on ‘the Jews’ if one is so inclined, and we delude ourselves to think that a new round of scapegoating cannot follow.

Perhaps the eeriest comment comes from the grandson of Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Hoess who peers at the photos of his father’s upbringing in a sheltered compound on the grounds of the concentration camp. ‘Here is where my grandfather sat around with his family having tea’, he muses, ‘and then got up to say, All right, children, I’m off to kill a few more thousand. Back soon.’

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