There were two excellent documentaries on last night on the brilliant BBC4, the first was ‘Surviving Hitler: A Love Story’ and the second ‘My Father was a Nazi Commandant’. Both tales are about the same war, both are about German’s, both involve Jews, yet one tale left me feeling a sense of joy and optimism, the other left me feeling sick and slightly traumatised.
‘Surviving Hitler: A Love Story’ is quite an incredible tale, the story of a Jewish teenager Jutta, and a wounded soldier Helmut, who are deeply in love yet are ripped apart because of the evil regime of the Nazi’s. When you listen to the story you actually feel like it is a film. As if it could not be true, firstly how a German Jewish family lasted so long without being carted off to a work, concentration, or death camp. The fact they helped to save other Jews from a fate worse than death, how they were involved in the plot to kill Hitler, called Valkyrie. Then there is a soldier, he did not want to be a soldier, he wanted to go to university, yet he ended up near Stalingrad, before being wounded and sent back to recover. He was so disillusioned by what happened he openly sought to find a way to help the resistance.
I feel it is good to see stories like this, that show that many German’s were not Nazi’s, were not evil, and did not want Hitler. It shows the terrible fear they lived under every day, and how they coped with it and tried to do something about it. When finally Jutta’s family are caught by the Gestapo, and she is left alone, the plot to kill Hitler has failed, her love Helmut is imprisoned basically waiting to be humiliated in a Kangaroo Court, then brutally executed. Jutta makes her mind up to not give in, and to walk with her held high right into the Lion’s Den, (although this is unfair to Lion’s, I should say Hell’s pit of Evil) Gestapo headquarters.
Jutta never expected to see her family again, she found out her mother was in a concentration camp, her father she did not know about, and her German Soldier boyfriend locked away for his involvement in attempting to blow up Hitler, she assumed was executed. And as the Russian’s took their revenge on the obliterated nation’s capital, Jutta was set free, she found out her mother was also free, and then her father and finally Helmut. It was a happy ending to a terrifying tale, which unfortunately many others were never lucky enough to receive.
I think what helps make the story so compelling and heartfelt is Jutta’s telling of it, she is quite a woman. You have to respect and admire people like that and it is surprising it has taken so long to hear her story. How many other stories of equal heroism, bravery, fear and actual terror, have never been told, are locked away in traumatised minds.
The story shows how some people, some humans can overcome adversity and somehow go beyond what a normal person in a similar situation would do. It shows we can be great in spite of evil.
The second documentary is more disturbing and upsetting, it is the tale of two women, the first Monika, having to deal with the fact her father was the Nazi Commandant Amon Goeth, the psychopathic controller of the Krakow Ghetto, and the Płaszów Concentration Camp infamously immortalised in Schindler’s List. The second is Helen Jonas, who was fourteen when she was picked to be one of Goeth’s Jewish house slaves.
Monika’s awful mother Ruth never told her what her father was, but in a moment of spite, insinuated she would end up like him. And this made Monika want to find out. Imagine having to find out that about your own father, this was made far worse for Monika after she saw Spielberg’s film, she said she hated Spielberg for a while, and you can imagine why in a strange sort of way.
As with all traumas, she needed to know, she needed some kind of closure. So she bravely sent a letter to Helen, the Jewish house slave of her evil father at the Płaszów camp. Helen agreed to meet, in Krakow, at the place where it all happened. It seemed to me that when they met Helen found it difficult to cope with the fact a family member however innocent, of the man that had obviously ruined her life and tortured her in her nightmares, was standing beside her. You could sense the hatred, and fear, it was not your usual confrontation with evil as we see when two soldiers of opposing sides meet or even for that matter when other Jews have met other German children of Nazi leaders, as seen in documentary series, Hitler’s Children.
It must be hard to deal with especially someone in Monika’s position, the guilt, the devastating emotion she felt when she met Helen. It seemed a very difficult moment to go through; it was a very difficult moment to watch if I am honest. Yet equally it must have been even harder for Helen.
I often wonder how people who went through the Second World War especially, deal with it all; it must be an insurmountable amount of nightmarish terror, when one closes one’s eyes at night. It still to this day and every time I see anything involving the war, and especially what happened to the Jews and the barbarism of the Russian Front, staggers me it was allowed to happen.
Coincidentally it makes me think of a line from Planet of the Apes, the original Charlton Heston version from 1968, which I think sums up people like Amon Goeth, Hitler, Stalin, Himmler and every other greedy evil twisted human from the mists of time.
“Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.”