A Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did Charts Nazi and Jewish Descendants

A new documentary film has been made that explores the story of two descendants of Nazi officials and a professor whose family was killed in the Holocaust.

My Nazi Legacy documents a trip that Nazi and Jewish descendants made back to Eastern Europe, where the atrocities of the Holocaust took place, including two sons of Nazi officers and one Jewish man.

It has been more than 70 years since Hans Frank, who had been the Nazi’s SS governor in Poland during the war, was charged with war crimes before the Nuremberg courts. Meanwhile, Austrian Otto von Wächter had been the Nazi’s governor in the Ukraine. Today, Hans’ son, Niklas Frank, and Otto’s son, Horst von Wächter, along with Philippe Sands, an international law professor, took part in the trip. Many of Philippe’s family members were killed in the Holocaust in 1942.

Philippe and Niklas have become friends and have known each other for four years. The documentary charts the trip to Eastern Europe and monitors the three men’s real-life struggle to deal with what their parents did or went through during the war. The film’s director has attempted to document how modern-day Germans are dealing with what their parents and grandparents did.

The documentary has recently been released and shows reconstructions of how the Nazis managed the Jews and herded them together to be killed.

Niklas Frank is now 76 years old but had been just seven years old when his father Hans was hanged for war crimes. Niklas says that he condemns what his father did and that the authorities were right to sentence him to death.

Horst von Wächter is the same age as Niklas, but he claims that his father was a bureaucrat and had to follow Nazi orders.  He apologizes for his father’s actions but says that it was impossible for him not to follow through on them. Otto von Wächter was never brought to trial for war crimes, as he evaded being caught by the Allies. However, he died of natural causes just four years after the war ended.

These two differing perspectives of Nazi descendants is explored in-depth throughout the film and asks if it is a difference between the German post-war perspective and the Austrian post-war perspective. Niklas says that many people both in Germany and Austria still struggle to accept what their parents did and that many remain silent, never talking about the past. He believes that many Germans today are cowards, just like his father.

The director adds that the film is an insight into how people deal with judging what those within their family have done. He says it is easy to judge people from afar, but not so easy to judge those who are your next-of-kin.

Ian Harvey

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