Judge P.S. Colbert has been called many things, but "Son of a Hitler?" Kein weg!
Hitler's Children is, of course, a misnomer; the leader of Germany's notorious Third Reich went to his grave without procreating. The title actually refers to five descendants of top-ranking Nazi officials:
Bettina Göring, who bears a startling resemblance to her great Uncle Hermann, the former World War I flying ace and founder of the Gestapo, credited with being the first to order the extermination of Europe's Jewish population.
Katrin Himmler, whose great Uncle Heinrich was the most senior Nazi after Hitler, and commander of the party's secret police.
Rainer Höss, grandson of Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp.
Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, and godson of the Führer. Frank's father progressed from a Nazi lawyer to the Governor-General of occupied Poland.
Monika Göth, who's father, Amon Göth (commandant of the "work camp" in Plaszov, Poland) was later immortalized on screen by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List.
Each has their own unique story to tell, but all are united by overwhelming grief and inexplicable feelings of guilt over the actions of their ancestors:
Göring moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to put some distance between herself and the burden of her heritage.
Himmler became a master of different languages and accents, saying that she'd be "thrilled" if others actually mistook her for Dutch or Swedish.
Höss reveals a cache of family photos taken in the garden of their Auschwitz residence; idyllic scenes of happy children (his father among them) frolicking, and seemingly unaware of the back yard gate that separates them from the crematorium and prison camp.
Frank recalls being entertained as a child by starving Jewish prisoners, made to do tricks for his amusement.
Göth recounts her mother's violent reaction after being confronted by her daughter, regarding the father's murderous actions. She later describes the funereal horror of sitting alone in a cinema as an adult, and seeing those murderous actions being played out before her in Steven Spielberg's iconic film.
The five are interviewed individually and extensively, with director Chanoch Ze'evi giving a full frame to each of their faces as they sound off on their respective histories. But Hitler's Children is more than a series of talking heads, following Göring around the expanse of her remote desert abode; showing Frank as he visits German high school classrooms, to read from his memoirs, and more importantly, to impress upon these children the reality of the Holocaust, which, unfortunately, recedes further into the mists of time and myth for each successive generation.
Most fascinating is a trip to Auschwitz, taken by Höss, who has resolved to deal with his father's "playground" after years of avoidance. As he nervously makes his way towards the wretched landmark, he is accompanied by Israeli journalist Eldad Beck, who, in addition to visiting the extant camp for the first time himself, also brings with him a personal attachment—his ancestors perished there.
There are occasional dabs of orchestration (the musical equivalent of light brush strokes on a painting), but Ze'evi wisely keeps such manipulations to a minimum, allowing the rich drama to play itself out in the stories and pictures presented.
Film Movement has done a bang-up job on the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and Dolby Digital stereo sound. You get two for the price of one here—although Bonus Film "Kun 65" runs a mere twenty-four minutes, this documentary, tracing the discovery of a "shabby looking" oil painting on the street by director Tal Haim Yoffee, has all the depth, beauty, and excitement of the top flight feature it accompanies.
Of course, a finer, more balanced documentary might have resulted if Hitler's Children also featured interviews with relatives who felt differently about their Nazi progenitors, but such relatives seem intent on avoiding the subject altogether. In the meantime, here exists a fascinating and empathetic look into a handful of lives, forever affected by the unforgivable actions of the Third Reich.
Guilt ridden, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Bonus Film
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