“The Decent One” (“Der Anständige” in German) is a chilling documentary, but it’s chilling in a surprising way. Based on the private letters of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, the man who largely orchestrated the Holocaust alongside Hitler, the film shows us the personal side of the man who has been known for decades as a notorious mass murderer.
Filmmaker Vanessa Lapa uses archival footage and photographs – some of Himmler and his family and some just from the time period in Germany – to illustrate the era and give us a glimpse of what Himmler’s life was like when he was not involved in his “work.”
The result is quite mundane, actually, but it’s exactly the mundane nature of it that chills to the bone. Himmler wrote tender love letters to his wife and expressed a great deal of affection and even a sense of fun in his personal life. The letters between Himmler and his wife are read by actors in German with English subtitles provided, and many of them sound as if the war wasn’t happening at all.
In his mind, Himmler was able to utterly compartmentalize that tenderness from the hatred he felt toward the Jews and others whose deaths he planned and coordinated. A few of the letters elude to his belief that the German Christians had every right to kill those they believed would kill them.
Until the very end, when he finally realized defeat and committed suicide by cyanide poisoning, he continued to believe in the impending victory of Hitler, and he never flinched from his belief in the rightness of his atrocities. It made me shudder to hear about the normalcy of the man’s family life juxtaposed with his evil, unyielding hatred and frightening denial.
“The Decent One” is a film that all WWII buffs will want to see. It opens at New York’s Film Forum on Oct. 1, 2014. Watch for openings in your area later this fall.