Netflix streaming, is a most accomplished fellow -- Philippe Sands, international human rights lawyer, law professor, prolific author, the latest work of which is: East West Street: On the origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.
Published in May 2016 to a torrent of praise (press title, above, for review) it contains the material that led to our film plus the stories of two Nuremberg prosecutors whose work created the basis for the prosecution of war criminals.
The film itself, WHAT OUR FATHERS DID: A NAZI LEGACY (2015), has won top prizes at several film festivals and a British film award. It is thus with ambivalence that I quarrel with it because Sands's body of work is completely admirable and the film is engrossing and thought-provoking.
David Evans (of Downton Abbey, above), it begins as the story of Niklas Frank and Horst von Wachter, whose two highly placed Nazi fathers, Hans Frank and Otto von Wachter, executed the entire Jewish population under their jurisdiction in Poland and Ukraine. The film morphs into a warm yet toxic relationship among the three men -- Wachter, Sands, Frank (l - r, below).
Sands is painfully connected to his subjects: his paternal grandfather was the sole survivor of a family of 80 Jews from western Ukraine murdered by the two senior Nazis. Hans Frank was Hitler's personal lawyer and appointed governor of occupied Poland; he turned it into a killing field. Frank's mandates were carried out by Otto von Wachter -- an Austrian lawyer who served as civil administrator of Krakow and Galicia (Ukraine). (Below, front row, Frank, l, with Hitler.)
It's too easy to condemn Horst for being in denial of his father's guilt and to applaud Niklas's clarity about his father's crimes -- it means none of the familial ties or the environmental conditioning have been factored in, such as the coldness of the Franks that led a son to hate a father nor the relent-less pressure of conformity by the Nazi culture that carried Otto in its tide.
Philippe Sands, his family having been murdered by the two fathers, is an understandably emotionally-fraught narrator as he presses Horst, the troubled, guilt-ridden older man, to 'crack' -- not Sands's finest moment. Oddly, at least one virtue of this film is in its revelation of myopia that freezes belief like a dragonfly fixed in amber.