Revisiting history through the descendants of two high-serving Nazis and a Holocaust survivor, David Evans’ My Nazi Legacy bites off more than it can chew.
The Descendantsby Mark Wilshin
What Our Fathers Did: My Nazi Legacy
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Confronting the sins of the father, My Nazi Legacy explores the legacy of the holocaust through its forebears; Jewish human rights lawyer Philippe Sands whose entire family except for his grandfather was killed outside Zolkiew in Ukraine, Niklas Frank – son of Hans Frank, Governor-General of the Warsaw Ghetto and nicknamed the “Butcher of Poland” and Horst Wächter – son of Otto von Wächter, Governor-General of Galicia in the Ukraine. But despite the enormous complexity of its subject matter, My Nazi Legacy – directed by David Evans (of High Fidelity and many a hit UK TV show), maintains a disappointingly unambitious small-screen scope (made for BBC’s Storyville series), where perhaps the extended running-time rigour of Claude Lanzmann might have plunged deeper into the intricacies of these men’s relationship with history. There are stand-out moments, such as Wächter’s misguided pride in his father’s reputation, when he’s congratulated on his father’s kindly nature and his role in emancipating their country by Ukraninans wearing Nazi uniforms. Or the emotionally powerful stand-off between the three men at the mass grave where Sands’ family remains interred. But writer, narrator and executive producer Philippe Sands has a stranglehold over the film’s narrative, often browbeating his interviewees as if they were in the dock or haranguing the viewer through an impassioned voiceover, which warns against the tribalism of victim and perpetrator while upholding this very kind of black and white thinking – condemning Wächter as downright “wrong” as he tries desperately and against all odds to keep the memory of a loving father alive. Wächter’s conflict is one of the documentary’s greatest insights – refusing to accept that his father knew of the atrocities being committed in his name until he sees the evidence. And My Nazi Legacy is at its best when it allows Wächter and Frank to speak uninterrupted. (Or when Sands is viewed as an unreliable narrator – although probably against the author’s intentions). Nevertheless, David Evans’ My Nazi Legacy still makes for compelling viewing as, in an ideological battle between family and history, love and legacy go on trial.
My Nazi Legacy is now showing at the London Film Festival