Monday, November 23, 2015
What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy 
ChiTribune/Variety (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (N. Allen) review
AVClub (N. Murray) review
Times of Israel (U. Heilmann) review
Eye For Film (O. Van Spall) review
Slant Magazine (C. Dillard) review
What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy  (directed by David Evans, written by Phillipe Sands) a documentary that recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago is one honestly disturbed me more than I expected and then on more than one level.
The initial premise of the film was simple enough: Phillipe Sands, a human rights lawyer and son of Holocaust survivors, decided to do a documentary about two men -- Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter -- who were children of "upper management" though to some extent still second tier Nazis, Hans Frank and Otto von Wächter:
Hans Frank was "Governor General" of the "General Government" portion of Nazi Occupied Poland (which included the parts of Poland that were occupied by Nazi Germany after its 1939 invasion of the country that were NOT directly annexed into the German Reich. After the Nazi 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union this region expanded to include the parts of Poland that were annexed in 1939 by the Soviet Union, which entered WW II as arguably AN ALLY of Nazi Germany, and after the War became part of Soviet Ukraine).
Otto von Wächter became Governor of Galicia a section of the Ukrainian portion of the above "General Government" which he came to rule, briefly, from 1942-1944, as something of a personal SS fiefdom.
It becomes clear fairly early in the documentary, which first presents Sands meeting the two sons of these two Nazi war criminals and then through old family photographs / b&w home movies gives viewers a sense of their rather unusual childhood circumstances, that the two had very different opinions of their notorious / infamous dads: Niklas Frank had long accepted the reality that his father was largely responsible for the the deaths of millions (most if not all of the Nazi extermination camps were constructed and operated in the above mentioned General Government" portion of Nazi Occupied Poland of which the older Frank was "Governor"), while Horst von Wächter HAD NOT come to terms with the mass murdering legacy of his dad.
So MUCH OF THE FILM involves Sands, a human rights lawyer today but ALSO the CHILD OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVERS trying _increasingly hard_ TO CONVINCE Horst von Wächter of the guilt of his dad. This proved to be increasingly difficult to watch, EVEN THOUGH SANDS WAS RIGHT. Yes Horst's father was guilty of participating in ORGANIZED even INDUSTRIALIZED Mass Murder, but he was also Horst's father. So not entirely surprisingly, the son was trying, even now 70 years after the fact, to find excuses for him. And yet, Sands' own family was largely murdered by men answering, in good part, to Horst's father.
What becomes EVEN MORE DISTURBING IS THAT _AT LEAST IN PART_ Horst was NOT _completely_ wrong about his dad: His dad ran that part of Western Ukraine, Galicia, largely _as his own SS fiefdom_ during the Nazi occupation.
Today this Galicia is certainly the most "west oriented" part of the Ukraine (it would have almost certainly seceded from Ukraine if its central government in Kiev had not more-or-less decisively oriented itself toward the EU / West in 2014 (at the subsequent loss of ethnic-Russian dominated Crimea and then some of the more ethnic-Russian dominated provinces Eastern Ukraine...).
And the legacy of Otto von Wächter's "War Time Governate" of Galicia IS COMPLICATED. AS THE DOCUMENTARY SHOWS, HE is ACTUALLY QUITE FONDLY REMEMBERED IN SOME QUARTERS in WESTERN UKRAINE as one who _defended_ / PROMOTED Ukrainian identity (against others ... notably Jews / Poles and eventually as the Soviet Army approached the Russians). His most notorious legacy was in his championing of the formation of an SS Division "Galicia" which though still directed by Germans, was composed LARGELY of _UKRAINIANS_ that is SLAVS. This unit, though remembered all over central Europe as having been quite Evil -- it was deployed, for instance, to help crush the anti-Nazi 1944 Slovakian National Uprising -- is, again remembered quite fondly in certain quarters in Western Ukraine as a symbol of Ukrainian nationalism (some of the most disturbing moments of this documentary featured a group of young Ukrainians smiling ear-to-ear dressed in Nazi-era SS garb...).
This legacy then actually PLAYS INTO THE HANDS of the Putin Government back in Russia WHOSE PROPAGANDA DISMISSES THE WHOLE UKRAINIAN NATIONALIST PROJECT TODAY as being largely FASCIST / NAZI in orientation ...
And yet if we've fled here from the deeply personal of the past to the larger geo-political of even today, we're brought back down to earth with a truly wrenching scene filmed somewhere in the countryside outside of Lviv, Ukraine (Lemberg during Otto von Wächter's "governate" of the region) in which Sands and Horst von Wächter STAND ON TOP OF THE MASS GRAVE where most of Sand's murdered Jewish relatives were buried after being shot (by men answering at least in part to Horst's father Otto von Wächter) and _even there_ Sands can not get Horst to admit that his dad was _at least partly responsible_ for that.
To the last, Horst von Wächter kept maintaining that his father's focus was not on _killing Jews_ but on "lifting-up Ukrainians" ...
Ah the "burdens" of "serving" as a random Imperial Satrap: You randomly curse one people to death and randomly bless another ... and then go play soccer with your kid ...
One tough film to watch ...
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