What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

Nov 18, 2015

Another credible documentary on the Nazi legacy.

What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

Grade:  B+

Director: David Evans (Dirt)

Screenplay: Phillipe Sands

Cast: Niklas Frank, Horst von Wachter

Runtime: 96 min.

by John DeSando

Good documentaries about the Holocaust, such as the harrowing Night and Fog, are impossible to forget. In a less visceral way, but still memorable, What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy explores in an interview style two sons of high-ranking Nazi officers.  The low-key three-hander, moderated by Jewish lawyer Phillipe Sands, exemplifies the difference between acceptance of the horror and denial, both still active points of view.

Horst von Wachter believes his father was blameless because he was following orders with no alternative but death for anyone who disobeyed.  Yet, he signed orders to build Dachau, the notorious death camp. On the other hand, Nicklas Frank completely accepts his father's responsibility and shoulders the shame courageously and with an equanimity that contrasts with  Horst's defiance.

Because Niklas’s father was convicted at Nuremburg of murder and hanged for “command responsibility” and Horst’s escaped, it’s probably why Niklas thinks Horst is a Nazi, and why Horst calls Niklas an “egoist maniac.” The filmmaker is on Nicklas’s side.

Director David Evans smoothly intercuts old footage, much about family outings, whose joy contrasts starkly with the murder going on in the background.  His emphasis on the humanity of his interviewer and the contrast between the two subjects is unwavering. Yet the filmmaker's opinion, evidenced in the closing voiceover, is apparent, some might say to the detriment of the doc's objectivity.

As for me, I don't know how a decent human being could hide sympathy for the victims and survivors of the world's most heinous crime. Although What Our Fathers Did presents the  two  enduring attitudes toward Nazis and their shame, the outcome is as it will always be--outrage and a lingering sadness for the entire human race.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at