One of the highlights of last year for me was sitting down with Professor Philippe Sands, an eminent barrister who has been involved in many of the great cases of recent years at the International Criminal Court. His documentary, “My Nazi Legacy,” was my favorite film of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. (The film was originally called “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy.”)
Now, finally, you will have a chance to see this film on PBS when it airs May 2, 2016 on “Independent Lens” from 10:00-11:30 PM ET (check your local listings) in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day (May 5) and the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials. Read my interview with Sands here.
A powerful and unsettling account of the toll of inherited guilt, “My Nazi Legacy,” which was directed by David Evans, explores the relationship between two men, each of whom are the sons of high-ranking Nazi officials, and Sands, whose family perished at the hands of the Nazis. As the three men travel together on an emotional journey throughout Europe and the past, the film explores the different ways that each man copes with his devastating legacy.
Niklas Frank has no qualms about denouncing his father, Hans Frank, who was convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg and executed in 1945. After a stint as Hitler’s personal lawyer, Hans Frank became Nazi Germany’s chief jurist in occupied Poland and was directly responsible for the mass murder of Jews and Poles. In the film, Niklas shares old photos and never-before-seen home movies and visits Poland’s Wawel Castle, where a da Vinci painting stolen by his father still hangs.
For Horst von Wachter, the extent of his father’s guilt is less clear-cut; despite evidence to the contrary, he insists his father was a decent man caught up in an intolerable situation. An Austrian lawyer, Otto von Wachter served as governor of Krakow, Poland, and Galicia, Ukraine, during the war. But unlike Hans Frank, von Wachter was never charged with his crimes.
Philippe Sands met both men while researching a book on the origins of international law. Sands’ family were Ukrainian Jews, many of whom were killed as a direct result of Hans Frank and Otto von Wachter’s actions, and, to Sands, the guilt of the fathers of both men is undeniable. Yet, he speaks to both men with sensitivity and absolute respect.
“My Nazi Legacy” offers an unforgettable look into the hearts of men who have lived their lives in the shadow of inherited guilt, denial, and shame.
Another of my favorite documentaries from last year’s Tribeca Film Festival was “The Armor of Light” by Abigail Disney, which will also air on “Independent Lens” on May 10, 2016. This film explores the relationship between Christianity and the NRA.
We follow Rev. Rob Schenck, a prominent evangelical minister who spends the majority of his time ministering to conservative politicians on Capitol Hill, and Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed African American teen who was murdered in Florida by a middle-aged white man “standing his ground.”
The two become unlikely allies who are brave enough to stand up against the status quo. Most of Schenck’s colleagues disagree with him. I highly recommend this film as well, which made me cry several times. Read my coverage of the film from last year here.
I’m glad that PBS is showing these important documentaries. Set your TiVo or DVR.