Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter have a very unusual friendship. Both in their seventies, the two men share an uncommon heritage: Frank’s father was Hans Frank, Nazi Governor-General of Poland; von Wächter’s was Otto von Wächter, Frank’s deputy and Governor of the Galicia District. But it is not this that brings them together: in fact, as David Evans’ fascinating, thought-provoking new documentary shows, it seems likely that, ultimately, it will force them apart.
Frank, whose father was a cold authoritarian convinced for a time that Niklas was illegitimate, has no trouble denouncing his father as a criminal who was rightly hanged after being found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials, the 70th anniversary of which is marked this month. “My father deserved to die,” he says flatly.
Hans, however, whose childhood was rosier, can’t bring himself to tarnish his memories of his father, calling him “somebody who wanted to do something good,” seeing him as a decent man forced to carry out the orders of a despicable regime. The pair’s discussions make for fascinating eavesdropping, as they visit sites of Nazi atrocities with human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, whose own family were victims of their fathers’ deeds. Both Sands and an increasingly frustrated Frank want, perhaps need, von Wächter to accept his father’s guilt. Horst, however, is a quietly stubborn opponent, and the small shift in perspective, when it comes, is perhaps not the one Sands, or indeed one of his subjects, was expecting.
What Our Fathers Did: My Nazi Legacy is out now