Film

Face Down History in the Pressing New Doc ‘What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy’

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In Ukraine, the sky is huge, but nobody ever mentions it. Three men with historical roots in the country walk under the huge blue sky. The grass is gold and green.

This is a place of violence; the three men are Philippe Sands, a British Jewish human rights lawyer whose grandfather escaped from the Nazis; and Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, two German men whose fathers were Nazi officials. They’re also good friends with profoundly different views of their fathers’ legacies. The intricacies with which these three men interpret, discuss, and shape themselves around a massive historical moment is the core of the documentary What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy.

Despite a melodramatic title, the film is keen and measured. Drama builds in the small moments: Niklas, who views his father’s crimes with horror and intimate regret, cannot understand how Horst, lacking specific proof of his father’s action, maintains a commitment to his innocence. I think he’s a Nazi, Niklas confides. But he’s an old man like me; he can’t do much.

Do ideologies lose their power as the bodies sustaining them shrink away? Why can’t we stop talking and thinking about Hitler’s horrors? (Should we? Horst’s denial suggests otherwise.) In long unspooling conversations between the men, 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.

What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

Directed by David Evans

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Opens November 6, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas