Thursday, December 20, 2018

Children of Nazis: The Sons and Daughters of Himmler, Göring, Höss, Mengele, and Others - Living with a Father's Monstrous Legacy


Rating: 4 Stars

Aside from being absolute monsters and garbage excuses for human beings, what do Josef Mengele, Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer, Hans Frank, Martin Bormann, and Rudolf Höss have in common?

They were all fathers.

I can not imagine a worse legacy to carry than to be the child of a Nazi. What a burden placed on those who know and accept the truth of what their fathers and mothers did during the war. They are victims, no one asks to be the child of monsters.

More horrific still are those who also know and accept what their parents did, and are proud of it. Those who continue to believe in the Nazi ideals and propaganda. I have zero sympathy for them, and they deserve to have their lives made difficult on a daily basis. I also believe we should never stop until every last Nazi is rounded up, put on trial, and given an appropriate sentence - life in prison. I don't care that these men are old or "unfit for trial" as some judges have deemed. They should be held accountable for their actions and prosecuted for those crimes against humanity.

I really became interested in the subject of these children (now, of course, adults - or even deceased themselves since the war) a couple years ago when I saw a documentary on Netflix. It was an aspect of the war I had not really considered before. My family is super German (Seriously. Our last name is the equivalent of Smith in the US) and so World War II and the Holocaust have always been something I wanted to know everything about, and that interest was sparked early on in my life, as early as middle school. And even so, it was not until just a few years ago that I gave much thought to the fact that these horrible men and women had children, who had children, and that they live among us today. Some denounce everything their parents believed in, and some embrace it without batting an eye.

There were many great things about this book, so many that I actually did not take very many notes because I could not stop reading long enough to do so. As the author seeks answers, it seemed to me to constantly repeat that whatever kind of relationship the child had with his or her father, determined how they felt about him later on. "Nevertheless, Rolf never turned Josef in. The reason he gives: it was impossible for him to betray his father. Unlike Niklas Frank, who detested his father, Rolf's feeling was that he never knew his father well enough to hate him" (75%). I know, right? Surely the fact that Rolf's father was not just any Josef, but THE Josef, as in Josef Mengele, would have been reason enough? This man tortured so many - especially, children, especially twins, and his son can't 'betray' him?

Here we truly get a remarkable look at some of the more intimate parts of the lives of these absolute monsters. Is it not a thought that just makes your skin crawl, when thinking of the men going home at night, kissing their wives, having a family dinner, then reading books by the fire or something else completely ordinary? And that's what really makes this all the more terrifying - good people do nothing, or look the other way entirely, and evil wins.

Though it disgusts me, I do suppose I can at least view from the perspective of those who still idolize their fathers, what kind of trauma this must have been, even though they chose to embrace that trauma instead of denounce it. Most of the children were young, and were raised in perfectly posh surrounds befitting the families of high-ranking Nazi officials. They were raised unaware of what was really going on across Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and scores of other places. Their childhoods were just as innocent and carefree as the offspring of any non-murderous monsters. Yet the moment it became clear that Germany would lose, that the Nazi would lose, that whole little world completed shattered, shattering their lives in the process.

The author does a considerable amount of work to bring this all out into the light, but she does not do so in a malicious or spiteful way. She has clearly done extensive amounts of research, and thus we are privy to so many details of these childhoods spent far from the camps and battlefields. She looks at each child, their relationship with their father or parents, depending on how involved their mothers might have been, and presents the information without bias. She does remarkably well in not allowing any emotion to get the better of her as she examines how eight specific children grew up struggling with the burden, or wearing it as a badge of honor.

Each child has their own section, and not only are we given an incredibly detail portrait of their lives and relationship, but the author gives much text to who exactly their fathers were (and sometimes mothers also), and what their jobs within the party entailed. Sometimes to was difficult to reconcile that two-sides-to-the-coin thing, how some could be seemingly wonderful fathers, but then turn around and be absolute destroyers of human life. Not all of the fathers depicted fit that mold though, some appeared as detached from their children as they were from those who they murdered, or ordered the murders of. It was a very enlightening look at family life within the party.

I suppose I should not have been, but I was truly surprised at how many of the children felt that their fathers had not been judged fairly. More than one - even more than two - were not only proud of their fathers, proud to be children of these former high-ranking officials, but at one time or another were trying to actively promote the work their fathers had begun. Others used the old "just following orders" garbage, which just made me roll my eyes. There were those, however, that fell far to the other end of the spectrum, one going so far as to undergo sterilization, as he feared passing on his genes to the future generation.

My only real complaint is...I wish this book would have been written sooner. It first came out in 2016 and by then, some of the children were no longer living. Still others have health problems, and all around most seem to just want to be left alone. The author was able to meet one of the children but no, I am not going to spoil that. it certainly made for a more intense experience, when getting the words directly from the descendant. In all the other cases it shows how much research the author truly completed, compiling information from previous interviews, the person's own writing, or even perspectives of others who knew the child. Unfortunately this did not always make for the best way to determine the lasting impact on the child based on the crimes of the father. Projects like these are so important. One day there will not be one single person who has a firsthand account of the atrocities committed in Hitler's reign of terror. Then, I fear, we will be in big trouble. As memories fade, so does the horror. We must never let that happen.

I highly recommend this one, whether you have a lot of knowledge about these men already, or not. It is an interesting perspective to take on a subject that has hundreds and thousands of books already dedicated to it.

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