What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

Can you imagine what it means to grow up as the child of a mass murderer? Hans Frank and Otto von Wächter were indicted as war criminals for their roles in WWII. Nazi Governors and consultants to Hitler himself, the two are collectively responsible for thousands of deaths. But what stood out to Philippe Sands were the impressions they left on their sons. While researching the Nuremberg trials, the human rights lawyer came across two men who re-focused his studies: Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter. The men hold polar opposite views on the men who raised them.


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  • ★★★★ review by Graham Williamson on Letterboxd

    This plainly shot, unfussy documentary somehow achieves an exploration of collective and individual memory that would impress Alain Resnais. The human rights lawyer Philippe Sands interviews Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, sons of men placed by the Nazi party to govern Poland and the Ukranian district of Galicia respectively. Frank is rueful and tormented, even accepting the charge that his torment might be self-serving without any protest. Von Wächter is much more troubling.

    The film is presented as being authored by Sands, and like the best authored films it accepts the subjectivity of its author's viewpoint. Sands actually appears to be going easy on his subjects for the first half, until they appear in front of an audience who tear von Wächter to shreds for his apologism and diffidence. After this, Sands increases the pressure, trying to force von Wächter to accept the existence of documents proving his father's culpability in crimes against humanity.

    The killer question with von Wächter is this: how much is he defending his father, and how much is he defending Nazism? There is a chilling stopover in his father's old stomping ground of Galicia, just as the ongoing Ukranian conflict kicks off. An elderly man is asked if the reports of Ukraine being full of neo-Nazis is correct, and he simply shrugs and says, yeah. The link is the use of politics as a way of coming to terms with your parents; the Ukranian far right support fascists because Communists killed their parents, and von Wächter is pushed into Nazi apologism out of a need to preserve his childhood image of his father as a good man. Deeply disquieting stuff.

  • ★★★★★ review by Billy Langsworthy on Letterboxd

    A remarkable film about two sons of high-ranking Nazis: one who has faced up to the crimes of his father and one exhibiting worrying levels of self-delusion.

    A must see that contains some frustrating and truly uncomfortable moments.

  • ★★★½ review by Rick Burin on Letterboxd

    A periodically gripping companion piece to Philippe Sands’ book East West Street – which explained the roots of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ via the history of Lemberg – focusing on the sons of two prominent Nazis, one tortured by his father’s guilt, the other convinced of his father’s innocence. As a film, it’s a little by-the-numbers, and becomes too repetitive in the second half, but the subject is extraordinary, with passages of great drama and emotional weight, increased by location filming and home video footage that makes its human tragedies uncomfortably real.

  • ★★★★ review by Alexandra on Letterboxd


    En realidad me identifiqué con él y su autoengaño extremo que es el mismo que el mío cuando digo "mañana empiezo la dieta" mientras me como semerenda hamburguesa con papitas fritas y Coca Cola Zero (eso lo vuelve fitness), cosa que pasó hoy y que en general pasa como tres veces a la semana. Te entiendo mi pana. Pero en serio, abre los ojos amigo.

  • ★★★½ review by Owen Hughes on Letterboxd

    Produced by Wildgaze Films, in association with BBC Storyville and BFI, the extraordinarily absorbing documentary, My Nazi Legacy, follows the journey of three men traveling together across Europe. Two of whom are forced to confront the atrocious war crimes committed by their fathers during the second world war.

    Themselves now elderly, grappling with the horrific and often conflicting truths about the legacy's that their fathers' have left for them is an tumultuous emotional journey.

    The third man accompanying them on this voyage of self exploration is Philipe Sands, an English author and respected international lawyer of Jewish ancestry, whose own relatives' past intertwines with that of his new friends' history.

    There's no getting around it. As captivating a human life story as My Nazi Legacy is, it juxtaposes the inescapable bleakness of humanity at one of its lowest points in modern history alongside an unremitting perseverance of will and character. You will struggle to see any other documentary this year that portrays such a deeply personal insight as seen here. The humbling effect that the encounters have on each of the three men appears sincere and genuinely moving for them.

    However, the stubbornness of Horst von Wachter, son of Otto von Wachter, a former high ranking Nazi official, will have you pulling your own hair in dismay at his growing reluctance to acknowledge any of his father's wrong-doing. As an international lawyer who has worked on cases Phillipe's patience wears thin, so too will you grow increasingly frustrated at the infantile justification put forward by Horst. "My father was just following orders". "Everybody said he was a man of high moral character."

    All I'm saying is, if you sit down to watch this, take a stress-ball with you. As the journey continues over the course of the relatively short run time, you will be glad you brought it with you. Alternatively, of course, you might find sympathy in the simple story of a son who is just looking for the good in a father where none has yet been found.

    The documentary is extremely well directed by the Emmy-nominated and BAFTA-award winning director of TV and film, David Evans, with editing provided by David Charap, who is probably most well known for his work on the Oscar nominated Virunga. They combine to give the overall production a touch of class, although it is difficult to shake that TV-vibe. At times it's like watching an extended (if extremely high quality) episode of Horizon.

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