Hanns Ludin, as remembered by his children, was a bon vivant and a lover of jokes, good food, and wine. And as Hitler’s man in Slovakia during World War II, Ludin gave orders that packed off thousands of Jews to the gas chamber before he was hanged in 1947. A tattered family album of a documentary—assembled by Ludin’s youngest child, filmmaker Malte Ludin, with the wary participation of his siblings—Two or Three Things I Know About Him can’t reconcile Daddy’s kind moon face with the Nazi regalia on his collar: His large hands, remembered so fondly by one daughter, signed deportment papers that dispatched other children’s daddies to their deaths.
Malte’s film tells “a typical German story”—how the surviving Ludins deal with the storm trooper in the closet by denial (the filmmaker’s nephew grew up convinced Hanns was some kind of resistance hero), avoidance (one sister testily deflects any talk of her father’s guilt), or trampoline leaps of logic (think of the Jews that Daddy didn’t kill!). Parallels between the whitewashing of personal and national histories are too obvious to state at a time when arguments still rage over how many Germans actually served as Hitler’s willing executioners.
Malte’s discomforting interviews with his siblings, supplemented by surreally matter-of-fact, Zelig-like photos of Hanns in Hitler’s company, make for gripping and confrontational viewing. Yet the harder he persists, the less clear it is what he wants from his family. Confession? Renunciation of their father, whose presence the filmmaker was too young to feel as acutely as his siblings did? What keeps this from becoming the ultimate in voyeuristic family strip-mining—Tarnation in jackboots—are the scenes in which Malte punctures the self-righteousness of his crusade. Facing a poet who lost his family to Malte’s father, the filmmaker instinctively resorts to the same semantic dodges and feeble justifications his siblings make to minimize the old man’s culpability. His shame is palpable—as it might be for Americans who grew up sidestepping the question of what their ancestors did back in the days of slavery and Jim Crow.
Film Forum is showing Two or Three Things with Benjamin Ross’s short Torte Bluma, a dramatized anecdote from the death camp Treblinka concerning a purported gift of mercy from the smugly benevolent commandant (Stellan Skarsgard) to his servile Jewish baker (Simon McBurney)—a gift that robs the soul of the recipient as well as the giver.