Hitler's Children


Hitler's Children

Film looking at the descendants of the most powerful figures in the Nazi regime. What is it like to have grown up with a name that immediately raises images of genocide?


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Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering.

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A member of Hitler's inner circle,

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and a leading architect of the extermination of the Jews.

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This is Bettina. Goering was her great uncle.

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Amon Goeth was the sadistic commander

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of the Plaszov concentration camp in Poland.

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He was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands.

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This is his daughter, Monica.

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Heinrich Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany.

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Leader of the SS and the Gestapo.

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His great-niece is Catherine Himmler.

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Hans Frank was another of Hitler's closest associates.

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As Governor-General of occupied Poland,

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he was responsible for the ghettos and the death camps.

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This is his son, Niklas.

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Rudolf Hoess was commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

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His grandson is Rainer Hoess.

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For the descendants of Hitler's most hated henchmen,

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will the past always be present?

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And will the future ever be free of guilt?

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This is the story of how five men and women

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have struggled to free themselves from the sins of their forefathers.

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The Institute for Contemporary History in Munich.

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Rainer Hoess wants to show a family heirloom to journalist Eldad Beck.

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This fireproof chest, weighing 40 kilos,

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was a gift from Himmler to Rainer's grandfather, Rudolf Hoess.

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As a boy, Rainer was sure the box would reveal yet more horrors

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of his grandfather's reign as the Auschwitz commander.

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But instead, the box contained a series of photographs,

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documenting the private life of the Hoess family.

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Rainer's father and his brother and sisters

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growing up in a grand house,

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separated from the gas chambers by just a few yards.

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This is what he wanted Eldad to see.

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Rainer's father is the younger of the two boys in these pictures.

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He grew up in this idyllic villa, in the grounds of Auschwitz.

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Journalist Eldad Beck is a third-generation holocaust survivor.

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Rainer and Eldad agree to make the journey to Auschwitz together.

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The descendent of a Holocaust survivor and the grandson of a man found guilty of genocide.

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Niklas Frank, a generation older than Rainer, was able to witness

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some of the horrors of Hitler's Holocaust at first hand.

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Childhood for the descendants of the Third Reich

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could never be entirely innocent.

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For many, it was also devoid of any parental love.

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On the train to Auschwitz, where his father spent his early childhood,

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Rainer Hoess recalls a cold, distant relationship.

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Niklas Frank's childhood was equally devoid of parental love.

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Monika Goeth was only one-year-old when her father was tried

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and hung for the murder of tens of thousands at Poland's Plaszow concentration camp.

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She was brought up by her mother,

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as if the horrors of Plaszow had never happened.

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She refers to her father by his first name,

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Amon.

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As she grew up, Monica began to question

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this rose-coloured version of her father's history.

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And she confronted her mother.

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Niklas Frank has written books about his parents and what it was like

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growing up as the son of one of the leaders of the Third Reich.

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He describes how his mother loved going shopping in her Mercedes,

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escorted by the SS.

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Niklas tours Germany, reading extracts from his work.

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He presents his parents as he continues to see them, as monsters.

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And he is equally tough on himself.

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Here, he describes a day out to visit a concentration camp.

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Katrin Himmler thought she had a good relationship with her father

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until she started to research into the family's past.

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Katrin's family descended from one of the most notorious of all Nazi war criminals.

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Her grandfather was the brother of Gestapo and SS Chief Heinrich Himmler.

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Bettina Goering remembers her grandmother denying

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there had been any wrongdoing by the family at all.

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I was like 11, 12, something like that.

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We saw a documentary about the Holocaust on TV

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and she was there and she'd say, "It's all lies, it's all lies!"

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And we went, like, "How can you say that? Look at all that happened."

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So I remember that there was...big fighting already, yeah, at home.

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So, yeah, that's how those people dealt with it.

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If they would have admitted what happened, I mean, it would have been terrible.

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So best way to go is say it didn't happen at all.

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The night before his arrival in Auschwitz,

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Rainer is tormented by the thought that he might be recognised,

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identified as the grandson of the concentration camp commander.

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As he tried to go to sleep that night, he realised that

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another source of anxiety was the pictures from his grandfather's box.

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In particular, the photograph of the gate, which separated

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the grand home from the horrors of the concentration camp.

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The Gate to Hell began to symbolise for Rainer

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the doorway he was stepping through himself to face

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and to try to separate himself from the full weight of his past.

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Sooner or later, all these sons and daughters of the Third Reich have looked through that gate

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to have the horrors of their forefathers revealed to them.

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For Monika Goeth, the chance came in the form of Manfred,

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the owner of a bar in Munich.

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Amon Goeth was portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler's List.

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It was this film that finally brought home to Monika

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the full horror of her father's history.

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Monika left the cinema suffering from shock.

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She now knew what her father had been.

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Auschwitz was organised as the first.

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The commandant, the organiser, appointed for this place was Rudolf Hoess.

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Rainer arrived at Auschwitz fully aware of the reputation

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of his grandfather, Rudolf Hoess.

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And he had known about the villa,

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the idyllic home on the edge of hell, for most of his adult life.

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But he was now about to see it for himself for the first time.

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The gate...

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My private hell.

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Rainer is immediately drawn to the gate,

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and looks again at the photographs of his own father as a boy,

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growing up in the shadow of the gas chambers.

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The boy who would grow up still enamoured with the Third Reich.

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RAINFALL

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Horrible, horrible.

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Here, they are murdering people...

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Millions. Childs.

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And they bring their families here and they, you know,

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they grow their families here,

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and, you know, everything is just as normal as it should be.

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Horrifying.

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Entering the villa itself, the guide points out how close

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the family would have been to the gas chambers.

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You see? And small garden.

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And small garden. Yeah?

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Yeah. We go visit inside.

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So we close this...

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Yeah.

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And the small gardens. You see? And walls from camp, you see?

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Yeah.

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-You see?

-Yeah.

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So they are so close, the whole family, close to the chambers.

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Yeah.

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Your father grew up with this. With the smell. With the smoke.

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When they pick up the strawberries, my grandmother said,

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"Please wash it first, because it smells," about ashes, you know.

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BELL TOLLS

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BELL TOLLS

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It took Rainer until he was in his mid-40s to make this trip.

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Some of the descendents of the Third Reich don't get this far.

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Others have denied, ignored or turned away.

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For Himmler's great-niece Katrin, the shadow of the Holocaust

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hung more heavily over her when she travelled abroad.

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Good girl.

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For Bettina Goering, on the other hand,

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getting away from Germany was a huge step forward

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on the way to coming to terms with her past.

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She now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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I haven't lived in Germany for 30... I don't know, some years.

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35 years by now.

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It is easier for me to deal with the past of my family from this great distance.

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It's not our life, you know, we have to digest

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but the life of our grandparents or our parents, whichever.

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And they didn't deal with it or they couldn't deal with it,

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or only to a certain point could they deal with it,

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and then you can absorb all that stuff,

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and now we have to deal with it, like, sort of...

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You have to be almost psychic to deal with it.

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Bettina may have found it easier to face her past since she moved to the United States,

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but how much is that to do with distance,

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and how much to do with isolation?

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We live outside of Santa Fe. Way out, actually.

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I don't think anybody has lived here for good reason,

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because there's very little water.

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We only get our water from rainwater,

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and we're off the grid, that's the other thing.

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There's no electricity.

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So we have to make our own, by solar,

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and luckily, we have a telephone company,

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so we are connected to the world through the internet or the telephone,

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but, yeah, we're very far away from everything.

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And yet isolating herself in a distant corner of a foreign land

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still couldn't excise all the demons of her inheritance.

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For Bettina, there was another, even more drastic, step to take.

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Sterilisation.

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Niklas Frank thinks you should not try to escape your past.

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On the contrary, he works ceaselessly to bring the past

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to the attention of as wide a public as possible.

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Niklas tries to convince his audience that there is evil in the world.

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It exists.

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His readings are a warning.

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Katrin wrote the Himmler Brothers about her grandfather and two great-uncles,

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and she has mixed feelings about its impact.

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Katrin's book about the Himmler brothers

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finally exposed the full horror of the past

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that her family had tried to keep hidden.

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RAINFALL

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In Auschwitz, an emotional Rainer has come face to face

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with his family's dark past,

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but he's about to face an even sterner test.

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He stands before a group of Israeli students,

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unmasked as the grandson of the Auschwitz commandant.

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Ask questions.

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Ask the questions. I think it's...

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It's better?

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Yeah, a little bit nervous also. It's the first time.

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Why are you here?

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Why are you here?

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Warum bin ich hier?

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To...

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To see the horror what my grandfather made,

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and the lies what I have all the years in my family.

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You say lies, what lies?

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The family, my family lies.

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I was a young boy when I met my grandmother,

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and I asked her a couple of times, what's going on with the name?

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But there was no answer.

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I think a lot of these... Yeah. It wasn't spoken in my family.

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Do you feel guilty for what your grandfather did?

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-Yes.

-Do you feel responsible?

-Yes.

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I feel guilty.

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SHE SOBS

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It's a pleasure for me.

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I feel sorry for that what's going on with his family.

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What would you do now if you can meet your grandpa?

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Oh.

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You want to hear that, what I will do?

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I will kill him myself.

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CHATTERING AND LAUGHTER

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APPLAUSE

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The lives of Hitler's children have all taken different paths

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as they have tried to face up to or free themselves from

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the sins of their forefathers.

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But can they ever truly escape the shadow of the past?

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LAUGHTER

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These children of Hitler can never undo the deeds of their forefathers

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but by confronting their shared past in different ways,

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they have perhaps eased the burden of that guilt

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from the next generation.

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CHILDREN LAUGH

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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Their family name alone evokes horror: Himmler, Frank, Goering, Hoess. This film looks at the descendants of the most powerful figures in the Nazi regime: men and women who were left a legacy that indelibly associates them with one of the greatest abominations in history. What is it like to have grown up with a name that immediately raises images of genocide? How do they live with the weight of their ancestors' crimes? Is it possible to move on from the crimes of their ancestors?


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