Reviewed in the United States on August 27, 2017
There's so much *muchness* in this incredible film that as much as I mention below, I don't begin to cover it all --not the least of which is your opportunity to witness these people descending into lying, trying to flirt with the camera and attempting to hide things we know to be true, and things we don't understand until the film ends.
I didn't feel so much like I was watching a translated film, it was done very professionally, and many times both filmmaker and interviewees broke into English.
You get to watch some unforgettable Holocaust denying by a 60-something woman who stands in front of the camera c. 2014 and claims none of the Nazi ruling class knew about the camps or mass executions or gas, and their were *only a few killings* of *a few hundred Jewish partisans who were themselves starting revolutions against the Germans* .
You watch her face as the lies she tells convince no one on the film crew [I think 2 people] and she keeps escalating the fiction, as though accustomed, herself, to enforcing compliance in any room. WEIRD.
And this woman was an artist, standing in front of some truly hideous sculptures. Sculptures, by the way, that seemed to have their eyes covered, I noticed.
So the son of this major Nazi war criminal continues, through shocking and very raw, difficult moments, to show many aspects of the truth of who his father was and what his father knew, when he knew it, and what he did with his power as a Nazi elite, despite the ongoing angry denials and sappy cajoling of his sisters.
Malte Ludin, the brave, soft-voiced filmmaker, is the son of the late *Ambassador to Czechoslovakia* who definitely --according to dozens of signed and dated and officially stamped pages of orders, incredibly clear memoranda and briefing papers that we are able to read and hear translated on screen-- was part of the elite Nazi executive branch who PERSONALLY ordered the mass deportation, jailing, execution plus removal of Jews [and hundreds, then more than a thousand of non-Jews] to at least 2 Nazi death camps. Camps that were known precisely as death camps. Gassing camps.
I want to say this: I'm thinking a lot about my own father after watching this movie, made by a son about the horrors his father carried out on other human beings.
I watched my dad suffer small, then massive loss of business and decades of business opportunities because he would not participate in the KKK and the associated group of sheriffs, judges, and business men who supported it as our Deep South tiny town resisted integration of both Jews and African-Americans in the schools and suburbs during the '60s and '70s when my sister and I were just kids. I did see what it cost, saw how we were excluded from *the best clubs* and camps and birthday parties, and I heard my parents talking and arguing late into the night about financial opportunities missed because my dad stood up, as a church-going, Jesus-loving white man, to Jew-hating and Black People -hating men who for decades controlled just about everything in our local region. My dad couldn't relocate our family because he took care of both his aging parents and my mom's aging parents, financially and otherwise, and he felt he was too old and uneducated to start a new business somewhere else. True, it wasn't in the middle of the real horrors of an international war with bombing and food rationing, and people weren't dying in executions and by the thousands in Death Camps. so there is no equity here. But we were shown that --even in America, and even in peacetime-- you often make huge sacrifices that affect the rest of your life when you stand up to evil.
What I'm trying to show here is that I saw the many costs of being a decent person in the face of the power elite --even when your skin was the same color as the power elite. I'm grateful to the filmmaker, the woke son of this powerful Nazi, for showing me at another level some difficult family truths that are hard to admit, but absolutely crucial to understand.
Though witnesses and survivors Jewish and non-Jewish claim, and records show, *Ambassador* Ludin personally sought exemptions for some Jews [as did many local and regional commanders who wanted to keep physicians, musicians, tailors, and in some cases, university professors at home in their professional capacities--] at one phase, but ultimately, Ludin's father did fully, participate in displacement, then removal to specific death camps, all Jewish citizens of the main region of the old Czech Republic.
I noticed the words *total solution*, rather than the more commonly translated *final solution* were specifically shown in these abundant, and clearly signed and worded documents. There are millions more records on Nazis and Nazi collaborators because in the era before computers, no one kept precise and complete records as did the Nazis, who built a state that was not just a killing machine, but a management machine. One more way the sickos and uneducated Americans who call themselves Neo-Nazis really don't get it: all the proof is there in writing, signed, dated, stamped, and it's there in triplicate, made by the hands of their own claimed culture heroes of the Third Reich.
What a perfect example of how the lies and denials of a lifetime can warp the personality to any kind of reality. OF COURSE the Ludin children were NOT t guilty of those horrors.
But they're guilty as heck now...except for the one son, and maybe one of the seemingly more deep-thinking of the several sisters.
One grandson wanted the family to be more open; one granddaughter, a strikingly beautiful 30-something woman, who was either engaged or previously married to a Jewish man, who was in this most unique film, was still deeply in denial about her grandfather's professional Nazi role in the Holocaust. Watching her facial expressions change when she spoke about the possibility of not having dated this man initially if she'd actually realized he was Jewish, it was incredibly sleazy.
This shocking scene of a 30-something, beautiful German Jew-hater reminded me that we often don't judge the beautifully as quickly as we judge those who may not embody what we consider attractive. But then, Hitler knew that very well, didn't he? Just look at the difference between, say, a British uniform of the high command, and the SS uniforms: it's no contest, the Nazis had the best looking uniforms out there. Evil goes down smoother wrapped in the beautiful.
I hope they wake up, this family.
But it doesn't look good, because they are still so incredibly proud of their father. They still clearly perceived that they, themselves, were reflections of his alleged fabulousness, though this was clearly associated with their frankly extraordinary young life of privilege -- where the fact that he showered them with unusual and for the time, rare gifts of luxury --automatic cars for children, bigger houses, the best clothes, and this during wartime.
Of course, all the *things* they loved that they associated with loving their Nazi high command dad, it was all made possible by confiscated wealth and the big homes were the homes of Jewish families with children their own age that their father had driven out. Not to mention the mostly unacknowledged side business deals records show that the Nazi upper echelon were given, war-time profiteering is always abundant.
The lying, denying sisters fail to convince, then are shown by myriad documents how their father was not a rank-and-filer, even at the beginning.
He was a personal acquaintance of Hitler in the original handful of Brown Shirts. Notably, and unlike the other primary leaders of the Nazi regime, Ludin had been with Hitler from the very beginning in Germany, and is clearly shown in dated photos when there were just a handful of Brown Shirts and the *Christian Socialist* Party was just beginning as a cover for thugs who burned down Jewish businesses and beat up Jews in the streets. In fact, their dapper, disarmingly cute dad was so very close as to have escaped Hitler's own big purge-murders of his original Brown Shirts, that he was appointed chief executive Nazi,aka ambassador, to Czechoslovakia. This was a key appointment, not merely a diplomatic position, because many natural resources, and sites for proposed death camps and staging for the later invasion of Russia, was all part of the set up in Czechoslovakia.
The filmmaker also captured home films before their mother's death in which she continues to obfuscate and deny, very clear-headed into what seems like her early nineties, and witnessing the transformation that comes over this elder woman as she shifts between denial and the edges of admission, still beautiful and able to exude considerable charm, is something important to witness.
We are fortunate to witness it, and it would be a mistake to look away.
Also interviewed by this courageous filmmaker is the little boy who [now in his early 60s] was thrown out of his home at a very young age and forced to hide for the duration of WWII in a barn, sleeping in the dairy cows' feed trough, when his family, who were Jews, were forced to leave so Ludin, the newly-minted Nazi *Ambassador* could move his 5 or 6 kids and servants into the home close to the official zone of the capitol. A local woman who was apparently a star-struck teen housemaid for the Ludin family back in the day, clearly described the lifestyle, the add-ons the Ludins built.
Gave this a 4-star instead of 5, because by the end, I wanted one more line or two of explanation for a bit more clarity for non-German viewers.