FFB & #GermanLitMonth: My Father’s Keeper: The Children of Nazi Leaders – An Intimate History of Damage and Denial

Because sometimes there are stories -even in an atheistic world – that do not end with the passing of the protagonist.

Hermann Goring, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess… I think all of us have heard of these names. Then there were others whom I encountered for the first time: Hans Frank, Baldur von Schirach, Martin Bormann, Karl Otto-Saur…. People on top of the Nazi hierarchy. The men around Hitler. Officers all, whose word was law. But they were also (for the most part) loving husbands and fathers.

What happened to their children when the fathers fell? In 1959, journalist Nobert Lebert, wrote a series of articles on the children, then entering into adulthood. Forty years later, his son Stephan Lebert, contacted the children (now senior citizens) once again. Two of them: Gudrun Himmler and Edda Goring refused to meet him but the others did. The result of all the interviews, conducted by both the father and the son, is this book. We see the children in their adulthood and old age, living with the past, the past that the name evoked and which according to Stephan, Germany would like to forget forever. However, despite this, except for Niklas Frank, none of the others is ready to relinquish the name. From Wolf-Rudiger Hess, for whom the name has always been well-received, the one that has made his books best-sellers and which has made him receive tremendous support from ordinary Germans to Martin Bormann jr. , a priest who lectures against the dangers fascism poses and who carries a yellowed post-card, scribbled on it a loving message from his father to Gudrun Himmler who suffered perhaps more then the others and often found herself on the streets, unemployed because she would not relinquish either her father’s name or …. his ideology. She was active in politics and took care of her father’s erstwhile colleagues in their old age.

Their are certain books that make for difficult reading. This is one of those and often I had to take breaks from it, just walk aimlessly around and only then could I pick it up again. I thought that of the two sets of interview, the ones done by the father were better. A leader of the local branch of Hitler Youth, Nobert could perhaps better understand the dilemmas of these children.

This is a book that I feel is not only for everybody to read and respond on his/her own but the reaction would also depend to a large extent on where the reader is located.

*

First Line: In 1995, the death of an old woman is recorded.

Publication Details: London: Abacus, 2002

First Published: 2000

Original Title: Denn Du tragst meinen Namen

Original Language: German

Translator: Julian Evans

Pages: 244

Other Opinions: Curled Up

10 thoughts on “FFB & #GermanLitMonth: My Father’s Keeper: The Children of Nazi Leaders – An Intimate History of Damage and Denial

  1. I can see how this would be difficult to read, Neeru. But I can also see the point in reading and coming to one’s own conclusions. To me it is interesting to see the differences – sometimes stark – among the way these children lived with their heritage.

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    1. I have been thinking of what I wrote, Margot, about readers coming with their own responses but then I thought this was true of almost every book so perhaps what I wanted to say was that the reading and response to this book depends very much where the reader is located. So I think I’ll add it to the post above. Thanks for making me think of what I have written.

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  2. This does sound a tough one. If anyone had mentioned the children of Nazi high ups, I would have honestly only thought of them having to live with the burdens of their names. That some carried on with belief in the same ideology should be unsurprising but it still caused me to shudder.

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    1. No, Mallika, they were their fathers and it makes everything very complicated. I think Gorring’s daughter says at one point that she remembers her father as a person who had loved her a lot and people shouldn’t expect her to have any other image of him and I thought that she was right in her own place.

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      1. I can understand; it must have been a tough struggle for them–one can’t as you say expect them to shun their fathers because they were their fathers; I wasn’t commenting on their needing to shun or disown their family but more as regards propagating the same ideology. But I do see your point.

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        1. Propagating the same ideology is wrong, Mallika. I totally agree with you over there. I mentioned Gorring’s daughter because the author seemed to condemn her for saying what I had written earlier and I didn’t quite see it the same way.

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  3. What a fascinating approach. Imagine having a name like Martin Bormann, Jr. Of course his relationship to his father would be different than the world’s at large, and of course he shouldn’t be held responsible for his father’s actions. But, yes, I can well imagine wanting to change my name under those circumstances!

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    1. Yes, Reese but he didn’t want to change his name and it wasn’t all because he a priest and thus could forgive the sinner but also because of the man having been his father and having received love and affection from him. It’s all very complex.

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