Himmler was a Family Guy: “The Decent One”
Though historians and filmmakers have plumbed the widths and depths of the Holocaust, this fascinating Israeli-Austrian-German co-production depicts its terror from a different angle. In February 2014, private letters and diaries of Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel and architect of the genocide, were published for the first time. In private hands in Israel for decades, the materials were confiscated from the Himmler home in Bavaria as Germany lay in ruins after the war. Israeli director Vanessa Lapa used Himmler’s letters, plus visual material she gleaned from 53 archives in 13 countries, to craft this documentary about a family man and politician who was, when all was said and done, satisfied with himself. The Decent One (Der Anständige) won the prize for best Israeli documentary film at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.
Himmler’s childhood diary entries show his frustration at being too young to participate in the Great War and document his early interest in current events, dueling (he was an awkward and sickly youth), religion and sex. Following university studies and various disappointments, he joins the NSDAP and falls in love with Marga, seven years his senior. Their love letters, while playfully naughty, are, at his suggestion, efficiently numbered for future reference.
While no man is a hero to his valet, Himmler manages to always be a hero to his family. In their diaries, Marga Himmler, and later their daughter Gudrun, earnestly record their faith in the importance of Himmler’s self-sacrificing work. As the family moves from the striving middle class to the upper echelons of privileged Nazi society, Papa spends more and more time away from his darlings and at work on various fronts. Eye-opening footage includes that of Uncle Hitler’s jovial appearance at kiddie birthday parties and idyllic family outings to visit the camp at Auschwitz. But as the tone of the letters home becomes more strained, the images of Himmler’s SS at work become grimmer. Prisoners are executed, and corpses abused. This film is not for the faint of heart.
And yet Himmler writes in Gudrun’s friendship book, “In life, one must always be decent and brave and kind.“ The Decent One asks how a man can live by his own upright principles while committing mass murder according to the principles of the rest of the world. One fears that, far from having waned with the Nazis’ defeat, such madness lives on still.
Published on KinoCritics website