What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

Two friends, both children of very high-ranking Nazi officials, possess starkly contrasting attitudes toward their fathers.

Eminent human rights lawyer Philippe Sands investigates the complicated connection between the two men, and even delves into the story of his own grandfather who escaped the same town where their fathers carried out mass killings.

The three embark on an emotional journey together, as they travel through Europe and converse about the past, examining the sins of their fathers and providing a unique view of the father-son relationship, ultimately coming to some very unexpected and difficult conclusions.

The three men are:

  • Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, who was a top Nazi officer, governor general of Poland, and Hitler’s godson
  • Horst von Wachter, son of Otto von Wachter, who was another top Nazi officer
  • Philippe Sands whose Jewish family was killed by Hans Frank and Horst von Wachter in Ukraine during the war.

Today, Niklas Frank is disgusted by his father’s actions during the war and recalls his father taking him to see starving Jews who had been imprisoned by the Nazis. Meanwhile, Horst believes his father was a good man at heart and did not contribute to the Nazi’s Final Solution for the Jews.

Hans Frank was charged with war crimes at Nuremberg and was hanged, while Otto von Wachter lived beyond the end of the war, dying four years later from jaundice and never having been put on trial for war crimes.

Philippe Sands is a British human rights lawyer. He became friends with both Niklas and Horst, regardless of the fact that his family was murdered under their fathers’ orders during the war.

In the documentary, Niklas and Horst confront their fathers’ actions. The two have entirely different perspectives even though they grew up together and have been friends all of their lives.

Niklas has punished himself for his father’s actions all of his life and hated his father’s legacy. Horst continues to believe that his father never intended to harm anyone and continues to support him.

In one wartime newspaper article, Niklas’ father was quoted as saying that there was not enough paper to put up posters for every Pole shot by the Nazis. During his Nuremberg trial, he famously said in a show of remorse that Germany’s guilt will never be erased.

Horst continues to maintain that he wants to find the good in his father.

Philippe believes both men were responsible in some way for the Holocaust. He makes both men attend a public forum as well as a trip to Ukraine where Hans Frank had made a speech during the war.

Philippe tries to get Horst to acknowledge his father’s actions, but he is unsuccessful.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE