Children of the Reich tell of shame at being related to Hitler's men

The Scotsman/February 20, 2010

They are the forgotten children of the Third Reich, whose parents and uncles were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in history.

In Hitler's Children, a documentary about the children of leading Nazis, they speak publicly about living with the memory of their relatives' crimes.

Katrin Himmler, the great niece of SS chief Heinrich Himmler - second only to Hitler and in charge of the extermination programme - married an Israeli Jew and ponders how "one day, I will tell the story to my son about his great-uncle Heinrich".

She said: "I don't believe I inherited his 'badness'. But I live with his name. When I was 11 the TV series Holocaust was shown in Germany. I was 11. I sat at my desk, crying because, of course, the name Himmler was repeated again and again. I realise he was the worst mass murderer of modern times. But I am not responsible."

Bettina Goering - a great niece of Hermann Goering, who founded the Gestapo secret police and organised the Blitz on Britain that killed thousands - even had herself sterilised so she would not "create another monster".

Ms Goering, 53, now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she practices herbal medicine.

She said both she and her brother were voluntarily sterilised. "I had my tubes tied at the age of 30 because I feared I would create another monster," she said.

"I look like him, for a start - the eyes, the cheekbones, the profile. I look more like him than his own daughter."

Other participants include Monika Hertwig, daughter of Nazi death camp commandant Amon Goeth. She describes what it is like to be related to a man who shot babies for "sport".

Another participant is Niklas Frank, the son of Hans Frank, Hitler's brutal governor of occupied Poland who was directly responsible for the extermination camp programme that killed six million Jews.

Frank was hanged by the Allies after the war, but Mr Frank says he was "condemned to a living death because of the slime-hole of a Hitler fanatic I had for a father".

Israeli Chanoch Zeevi, director of Hitler's Children, said he found "fascinating similarities" between the emotions of those related to Holocaust perpetrators and those of survivors, some of whom meet the children of their tormentors in the programme.

"I have made a powerful dialogue between the children of the perpetrators and the children of the survivors," he said. "Both live out the Holocaust daily, unable to move forward with their lives."

Adolf Hitler had no children, while those of his propaganda chief Josef Goebbels died with him in the same bunker in which their Führer killed himself. But many others at the heart of the Reich had families - something that was encouraged by Hitler, who idolised youth as the bedrock of his empire meant to last 1,000 years.

Some of the children can remember being patted on the head by Hitler as they visited his mountaintop home in Berchtesgaden with their parents.

Niklas Frank remembers seeing prisoners tormented as his father chuckled.

"Thin men were mounted on to a wild donkey and the donkey bucked and the men fell off, and they could only pick themselves up again very slowly, and they didn't find it as funny as I did," he said.

"And again and again they got back on and the donkey was given a slap and again they fell off and they tried to help each other; it was a fantastic afternoon. Then we had cocoa. These are the s****y images I carry around of my father.

"I dream of the piles of corpses in the camps: my country will never be rid of that history. It is a story that is still not over."

Mr Frank lectures about his infamous father to young people in the former east Germany, in an attempt to keep them from straying into the neo-Nazi scene that preys on the young, unemployed and desperate.

"I have never managed in my life to get rid of the memory of him," he said. "I live with this deep shame about what he did."

Ms Goering said her father, Heinz, was adopted by his uncle after his own father died, and became a fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe. Heinz was shot down over the Soviet Union and returned from captivity in 1952 to find that his two brothers had killed themselves because of their shame, and the family's fortune was gone.

Hermann Goering was sentenced to death along with 11 others at the Nuremberg trials in 1946, but he committed suicide by swallowing a poison pill in his cell the night before his scheduled execution. Ms Goering said her father, who died in 1981, never spoke about the Holocaust, nor about his notorious uncle. "But my grandmother was less evasive - she adored him," she said.

"Another hard part for 'Hitler's Children' is that they thought they were the descendants of heroes. And they were not. We are the descendants of criminals and mass murderers."

Monika Hertwig cannot accept anything about her own father. As commandant of the Auschwitz sub-camp of Plaszow, he was hanged in 1946 for the murder of tens of thousands of people, 500 of them by his own hands.

"He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house, to see if one bullet could kill two," she said. "How far do you separate the murderer from the father? How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me."

Other children of once-powerful Nazis who speak on the programme - set for worldwide release after its summer completion - are Martin Bormann jnr, the son of Hitler's deputy, who is now a priest in Germany; the son of former Hitler No 2 Rudolf Hess; and Ricardo Eichmann, the son of Adolf Eichmann, who organised the transportation of six million Jews to extermination centres.

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