What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy full movie review - How I Feel About What Your Father Did
Manipulative, simplistic documentary which adds to the pantheon of works positing the acceptability of but a narrow view of Nazism.
The film opens with international lawyer Philippe Sands seemingly astonished to learn that Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, Governor- General of occupied Poland, is interested in discussing the architecture and furnishings of an Austrian castle. Philippe's confusion deepens when Niklas produces photo albums showing smiling family members and childhood birthday pictures along with photos of Adolph Hitler. Can Philippe's surprise be genuine? Is it so unimaginable that a family album might include pictures of a man the father worked with? Happily for Philippe, Niklas insists he had little love from his parents. We learn that his mother was remote and narcissistic - Niklas refers to her several times as Queen of Poland - and his parents' marriage was unhappy, with his father trying to get a divorce. Niklas is presented as fairly single-minded throughout the film, relentlessly condemning his father along with swipes at his mother. Philippe, and the BBC viewer, can relax. They were nasty people, these Nazis.
Unfortunately for Philippe and Niklas, Horst von Wächter, son of Baron Otto Gustav von Wächter, apparently loves his father, and has only fond memories of both his parents. His father was a good man, we are told. He loved his wife and his children, and while he was an SS Gruppenführer and Governor of Kraków under Hans Frank, von Wächter never whole-heartedly supported the Final Solution. Horst maintains throughout the film that his father never once signed an order to transport Jews to death camps, and in fact suggests that he remained in his position from noble motivations, especially to support Ukrainian independence. Niklas and Philippe are exasperated with Horst, and the dynamic of the film is set.
For the remaining hour and a quarter we see Philippe and Niklas, supported by a studio audience in London, struggle to convince Horst that his father was culpable in genocide. The battle becomes personal when Philippe reveals that under Frank and von Wächter 79 of 80 Sands family members died in Lviv, Ukraine. Philippe and Niklas argue with Horst in various venues, from an administration building where Frank delivered orders, to the site of mass executions, to a present day Ukrainian commemoration of the sacrifice of Ukrainians who fell fighting for independence. Philippe's alternately legalistic and quasi-therapeutic berating of Horst becomes a conspiratorial discussion with Niklas of whether Horst "is a Nazi" and what it will take for Niklas to sever his relationship with Horst.
Horst a number of times attempts to communicate a context for how he sees his father's actions, but Philippe irritatedly rejects that there might legitimately be any context other than that of the BBC television audience. Horst references the First World War and the number of Austrian dead on the eastern front. A Ukrainian asked about the presence of modern day fascists replies that the question is complex, but this goes unexamined.
The film closes with a rather excruciating imagining by Niklas Frank of his father's dishonest plea for absolution before his execution. For Niklas and Philippe, Niklas and Horst's fathers were beyond understanding and without redemption. Nazi crimes took place in a past disconnected from the time before Niklas's birth and events after Hans Frank's capture.
In the end What Our Fathers Did is a self-satisfied voyeuristic pummeling of one old man by two other old men in the name of a justice which recognizes complicity in Nazi murder as more evil than acquiescence and complicity in other mass murder.