German filmmaker Malte Ludin's gripping documentary about the father he barely knew is both an extraordinary exercise in family history and an example of what Germans call Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung: "facing the past," particularly the years of Hitler's Third Reich.
Ludin's father was no ordinary German, not even one who fell under Hitler's spell once the Fuhrer seized power. Hanns Elard Ludin was an early and committed Nazi who, after being imprisoned in the 1920s for declaring himself a National Socialist, left the moribund German army for the brown-shirted SA — the thuggish, violent paramilitary wing of Hitler's Nazi party. Ludin's star rose, along with Hitler's, above the ruins of the Weimar Republic; he remained faithful even after Hitler's bloody 1934 purge of the SA leadership and, after commanding some 300,000 storm troopers during the 1930s, became the Reich's ambassador to Slovakia. In 1941, Ludin moved his family to a lovely Bratislava home recently stolen from a Jewish family and embraced a job whose duties included organizing deportation of Slovakian Jews to Auschwitz, Treblinka and other death camps. Protesting his innocence until the end and claiming he was only following orders, Ludin was tried and hanged as a war criminal in 1947. Then only 5 years old, Malte waited until five years after the death of his mother, Erla, to unpack the family trunk filled with his father's newspaper clippings, documents and personal effects and piece together what he calls "a typical German story" (one shudders to think how true this description must be) and a portrait of the father about whom few spoke truthfully.
Malte's film is a bold struggle with the past — he includes footage from two separate interviews with his mother as well as his own uncomfortable meeting with a survivor of his father's crimes — and the silent present, as Malte attempts to engage his three surviving sisters and their families on the subject of Hanns Ludin. Perhaps not surprisingly, his eldest sister Barbel has both the clearest memories of her "kind" father and is the most defensive about his role in genocide. With the same mix of willful blindness and flat-out denial that allows her to believe two-thirds of German Jews survived the Holocaust, Barbe insists her father couldn't have known the ultimate fate of the Jews, despite documents bearing his signature that clearly indicate the number of Jews marked for "special handling" — Nazi-speak for murder. "Everyone is alone in their view," Malte states as a way of paraphrasing Barbe's attitude toward the father she bitterly defends. But in an era of shifting history and all-too-easily deniable facts, it's incumbent upon great films like Ludin's to share that viewpoint, particularly when all evidence it points to is what any reasonable person must regard as the truth.
Also on the bill: Jonathan Ross' "Torte Bluma," a chilling 18-minute film about an SS officer (Stellan Skarsgard) at Treblinka who continues to think of himself as a simple man caught in difficult circumstances, even as he sends countless thousands to their death. Simon McBurney costars as the Austrian Jew he "protects." leave a comment --Ken Fox