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My Nazi Legacy review: a chilling look into the past
November 19, 2015
Imagine growing up as the child of a mass murderer. It’s something the majority of us would never have to experience, which raises the question, how would you feel if it was you. Written and narrated by Philippe Sands, a world-renowned human rights lawyer who specialises in genocide and crimes against humanity, My Nazi Legacy follows as he travels across Europe with two men whose fathers were both senior Nazi officers indicted for their war crimes during the Second World War.
The first of the two is Horst Von Wächter, son of Otto Von Wächter, a Nazi politician and administrative officer from Austria. Horst was born just before the war, and thanks to his pleasant upbringing he thought highly of his father, even to this day. He describes his father as a loving father and a decent man. When looking over photographs of his father in uniform, images of horror or hatred to some, he instead sees love and compassion.
The second man we meet is Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank (a.k.a The Butcher of Poland). Adolf Hitler’s former personal lawyer, Hans was the Governor-General of occupied Poland. Sands first met Niklas when conducting research for a book about his father, which in turn led to Niklas introducing him to Horst Von Wächter. Unlike Horst, Niklas did not grow up in a stable home. Believed to be a child of adultery, his father was neglectful to both him and his mother. He was under no illusions about who his father was, nor what he was responsible for, and has been building hatred for his own father almost his whole life.
After meeting this two men and learning about their views of the past and of their fathers, Philippe brings men together once again to go on a journey with him around Europe. Will these men, who were already good friends, change their opinions of their fathers or of each other?
Despite a slow start, My Nazi Legacy begins to pick up as Sands brings these men together and as the journey starts we continue to learn chilling facts about all three men’s backgrounds. Sands, who at first is just the narrator and interviewer, is drawn into the narrative, as his Jewish family were directly affected by both von Wächter and Frank during the war.
The power of the story lies not just in the historical drama of what happened over 70 years ago, but also in the dynamic of the three men themselves. Niklas’ passionate hatred of his father and all things Nazi changes his opinion of Horst, whose naivety and arrogance surrounding his father’s actions help fuel the film, with Philippe’s involvement only adding to the drama.
The documentary is beautifully and respectfully put together, with none of the violence or shocking imagery often seen in documentaries on this subject. Despite being visually beautiful, it retains a personal feel, with glimpses of archive footage using sparingly across the film to remind you of the historical weight.
My Nazi Legacy is both a chilling look into the past and a glimpse into human nature in its rawest form, drawing out the tribal instinct to see the world in terms of victims and perpetrators, the inescapable feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
Words by Charlie Quirke