Hitler’s Children

May 4th, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Reflections & Observations
I recently received a link to a documentary film: “Hitler’s Children,” which describes the experiences of children and relatives of the monsters who served in Hitler’s inner circle of power as they learn the truth about their infamous relatives and meet children of their fathers’ victims. It isn’t an especially good documentary, but the subject is such that it cannot help but be powerful.

My most intense “German” moment was waking up after a 15 hour surgery, drugged, confused, in terrible pain, and watching a smiling blond haired, blue eyed doctor speaking German as he was screwing something into my skull. I opened my eyes for just a few seconds, and in my daze, was convinced that I was the subject of a medical experiment during the Holocaust. The doctor saw my face, looked at me with an unforgettable intensity, and immediately put something in my IV to knock me out.

He was sitting at my bedside when I woke up. He was incredibly kind and compassionate, and had delayed his return home to be sure that I would feel supported when I woke up. We eventually became good friends.

A few days later, he told me that he knew exactly what I was thinking when I first woke up. He apologized profusely for not considering how it would feel for a Jew to wake up in such horrible circumstances, in Germany, and hearing him yell, “Schnell!” to the surgical nurse.

He was shocked that I remembered the look on his face, and admitted that it was the first time that he understood the evil of his uncle, a doctor who served under Mengele.

The nephew of a prominent Nazi and the son of a rabbi had shared a moment that connects us to a nightmare.

I would wonder about each doctor I met, at least during the first few weeks in Germany, whether he was a child of a Nazi. It was difficult to no think about it as many of the nurses and the PT staff in the clinic would visit my room to discuss the Holocaust. Most of them had family members who prided themselves on their Nazi past. They felt a need to assure me that most Germans are good people who are ashamed of their past. I was uncomfortable enough dealing with the mostly Muslim patient population of the INI. The conversations only served to remind me of where I was.

I needed these people to help me survive, and many of my issues were iatrogenic, the result of mistakes by my American doctors. I was desperate to return home and yet, ironically, I felt safer with my German doctors than I ever felt with my doctors in New York.

Was I willing to ignore my circumstances because I was so desperate? Was I insulting the memory of the six million by forming friendships with the children of their killers?

I cannot offer an honest answer. I don’t know. Most of the people I met, German and Muslim, were good and caring people, who wanted to bridge the chasms that separated us. They went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and safe. But, no matter how friendly we became, the past was ever-present.

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