What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy
Two elderly men possess starkly contrasting attitudes towards their high-ranking Nazi fathers. A study of brutality, self-deception, guilt and the nature of justice.
Directed by David Evans
Produced by Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey
Writer: Philippe Sands
Executive Producers: Philippe Sands, David Evans, Nick Fraser
Editor: David Charap
Directors of Photography: Sam Hardy, Philipp Blaubach, Matt Gray
Music: Malcolm Lindsay
A Wildgaze Films Production in association with Willow Films
[Note: Community screenings of WHAT OUR FATHERS DID can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"Honest and penetrating...An important study in how one comes to terms with the past - or fails to do so." Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University
[Note: PBS's Independent Lens broadcast this film under the title MY NAZI LEGACY.]
A bracingly rigorous examination of inherited guilt and pain, WHAT OUR FATHERS DID explores the relationship between two men, each of whom are the children of very high-ranking Nazi officials but possess starkly contrasting attitudes toward their fathers.
The film was written and is hosted by eminent human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, who became fascinated by its central figures, Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, while researching the Nuremberg trials.
The film comes to a climax when they travel to Lviv in Ukraine, where it becomes clear that Frank and von Wächter's Nazi fathers were responsible for the annihilation of Sands' own Jewish grandfather's entire family. WHAT OUR FATHERS DID is a compelling examination of brutality, self-deception, guilt and the nature of justice.
"This is both an intensely personal story for me as well as one with contemporary and universal relevance as anti-Semitism spreads across Europe and the wounds created in Ukraine during WWII can still be felt today." Philippe Sands
Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2016
Copyright Date: 2015
DVD ISBN: 1-94154-550-5
"A remarkable and moving exploration of the problem of individual responsibility for state crimes...It is essential viewing for all those seeking to understand how mass killing could, and can still, take place."
Antony Polonsky, Emeritus Professor of Holocaust Studies, Brandeis University, Chief Historian, Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw
"Highly Recommended...Here, in fine detail, is a riveting documentary that demonstrates why we should understand that the Holocaust could happen again-in fact, is happening around the world...Viewers can see for themselves there are more opinions about who perpetrated the Holocaust than one might think, and they ought not be ignored."
Sheila Intner, Educational Media Reviews Online
"An exceptional documentary about the long and painful shadow of the Nazi atrocities, this is highly recommended. Editor's Choice."
P. Hall, Video Librarian
"Right from the start, this involving documentary asks much of its audience and poses questions that are unnerving yet engrossing."
Ken Jaworowski, The New York Times
"Outstanding documentary...challenging...A chilling demonstration of how the poison of the past can live in the bloodstream of the present."
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
"Watching two men grappling with the culpability of their high-ranking Nazi fathers is a deeply stirring experience. It provokes immediate discussion about the conflict between justice and loving your parents, remembrance and shame. What does it take to heal historical trauma?"
Dr. Björn Krondorfer, Director, Martin-Springer Institute: Global Engagement through Holocaust Awareness, Professor, Dept. of Comparative Study of Religions, Northern Arizona University
"A troubling study of denial, wartime responsibility and the challenge of dealing with a monster in the family...Absorbing."
Justin Chang, Variety
"This film is powerful testimony to how hard the truth about the Holocaust remains - despite the passage of time, which has produced prodigious historical scholarship but not always succeeded in penetrating the wall of denial erected by filial loyalty. Highly recommended for all teachers of the Holocaust who must navigate the disconnect between factual knowledge grasped by the mind and truth accepted in the heart."
Katharina von Kellenbach, Professor of Religious Studies, St. Mary's College of Maryland, Author, The Mark of Cain: Guilt and Denial in the Lives of Perpetrators of the Holocaust
"Riveting. This film is a withering cross-examination of conscience, recollection, and responsibility. Familial duty and the depths of denial are confronted powerfully in this penetrating psychological analysis of perpetrator and survivor. Highly recommended for those seeking to understand the generational legacy of the Holocaust and for those seeking to prevent genocide in the 21st Century."
Dr. Kevin Simpson, Chair and Professor of Psychology, John Brown University
"Chilling...gripping and compelling...Will put the viewer on edge...That's the price of war, whether on the winning or losing side."
Leba Hertz, SFGate
"Honest and penetrating...An important study in how one comes to terms with the past - or fails to do so - and how such a confrontation can empower one man to do good and another to exonerate evil. I would urge it to be screened widely. It will provoke deep and significant discussions among both students and adults. I was moved and angered; above all, overwhelmingly grateful for what I learned."
Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University
"The film is keen and measured...Director David Evans asks how mass murder affects those who live through it. We all are living through it - all small actors shriveling up under our misdeeds. We all have fathers. We all ought to let this film unlock us, proof or no proof."
Diana Clarke, The Village Voice
"An excellent profile of two contrasting relationships to historical memory. A powerful and moving study on the how the children of perpetrators struggle with guilt, denial, shame, and their own complex relationships to their fathers' crimes and legacies. This movie would be extremely effective in the classroom, and would also be a very good candidate for community screenings at Jewish Community Centers or at universities, followed by roundtable discussions of panelists."
Dr. Jonathan Wiesen, Professor of History, Southern Illinois University
"What Our Fathers Did asks, how would you respond if you knew that your father was responsible for the murder of hundreds, or thousands, or millions?"
Regina Weinreich, Huffington Post
"An excellent resource on the psychology of the perpetrator for not only the community but most of all for serious university students on the study of the Holocaust."
Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff, Director of Teacher Holocaust Institute, University of Miami , Co-author, Studying the Holocaust thru Film and Literature
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SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.
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Awards and Festivals
Nationwide Broacast on PBS's Independent Lens
Editor's Choice, Video Librarian
Best Feature, Jerusalem Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival
Vancouver International Film Festival
St. Louis International Film Festival
Hamburg Film Festival
London Film Festival
Stockholm International Film Festival
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Individual & Society
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... more Reviews
"A gripping story. What Our Father's Did dramatically puts on display the self-serving nature of attributional styles and other critical-thinking biases like belief perseverance and the confirmation bias within the context of two elderly men reflecting on the actions of their fathers who held leadership roles in the Nazi party. It is a fascinating real-life psychological journey."
Dr. K. Paul Nesselroade Jr., Director and Professor, Psychology Program, Asbury University
"A useful film. It should be shown to the Holocaust class of students...Class should discuss feedbacks from the audience. Particularly necessary for those who have little previous knowledge of this tragedy."
Dr. Yury Polsky, Professor of Political Science, West Chester University
"Thought-provoking...Takes on the difficult feat of reexamining one of history's most atrocious events and exploring what is left of it...Poignant and profound."
Zack Sharf, Indiewire
"A remarkably intimate examination of familial loyalty, national guilt, and the human capacity for both evil and self-delusion."
Andrew Silow-Carroll, New Jersey Jewish News
"No more fascinating three subjects could be found for this story...Will leave the viewer haunted...A stinging reminder precisely why we must not forget."
Eric Althoff, The Washington Times
"This provocative documentary is a picture of the complexities that still dominate the psyche of those related to the Holocaust."
Regina Weinreich, Huffington Post
"Compelling...Can you ask someone to not love their father? What if your father was a Nazi?"
David Costill, Cut Print Film
"A poignant, thought-provoking account of friendship and the toll of inherited guilt."
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline Hollywood
"A documentary with real intellectual heft...A fascinating and brutally honest, squirm inducing film."
Joe Bendel, The Epoche Times
"Prompts discussions on war crimes and personal responsibilities."
Candace Smith, Booklist