Inheritance

on June 25, 2006 by Mark Keizer
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In Steven Spielberg's Oscar winning "Schindler's List", Ralph Fiennes portrayed Nazi commandant Amon Goeth, a beast of such unforgivable magnitude that he would grab a rifle, stand on the porch of his villa overlooking the Plaszow concentration camp and pick off Jews for sport. The real Goeth, as it turns out, has a daughter, one who's spent almost sixty years with the knowledge that her father was a sadistic Holocaust perpetrator. In Oscar winner James Moll's emotionally draining "Inheritance", which had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Monika Hertwig confronts her father's legacy by meeting a Holocaust survivor who suffered under Goeth's direct command.

With her lanky, stooped-over frame and skin that hangs off her face, Hertwig's body is a physical manifestation of a tragic lineage she didn't choose and can't escape. But Hertwig is nothing like her father. She knows it and the audience can feel it. However, Moll has found one person who needs firsthand acknowledgment that the sins of the father were not visited upon the daughter. Hertwig's story is intercut with that of Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, sent to Plaszow as a teenager and handpicked by Goeth to live in his villa as a servant, doing his bidding under the assumption that she would be killed when her services were no longer required. For two years, Goeth was a tyrant, pushing her down the stairs, slapping her, murdering her boyfriend and making her bones shake when he'd noisily pace around his upstairs bedroom.

For sixty years after the war ended, the Holocaust defined the two women. Although scarred from her wartime experience, Jonas-Rosenzweig soon met a man who'd become her loving husband, only to have him commit suicide, unable to overcome his father's death at the hands of the Nazis. Hertwig grew up being told only that Goeth was a heroic veteran who died in the war. When she was 13, she learned the devastating, life-changing truth.

The film's centerpiece is an almost unbearably sad meeting between Hertwig and Jonas-Rosenzweig that took place a couple of years ago at the Plaszow Concentration Camp memorial. Although it's not made entirely clear in the film, Moll, who has worked with the Shoah Foundation, brought the women together. However, the thought of a movie director forcing two damaged women to face each other for the sake of his movie is easily pushed aside when seeing how much they benefited from the encounter. Monika immediately broke down in the presence of Jonas-Rosenzweig, a flesh-and-blood reminder of what her father perpetrated. Jonas-Rosenzweig is angrier, needing to divest herself of long buried resentments, well aware that her rage is directed at someone who is guiltless.

Their interaction continues as they visit Goeth's villa, which stands almost exactly as it did during World War II. Now it's Jonas-Rosenzweig's turn to break down, as she walks from room-to-room, the painful memories finding their way back from behind the locked doors where she had hidden them for over half a century.

The film benefits in that both women interacted with men whom the current generation is familiar with through movies. Goeth was quite friendly with Oskar Schindler, the wartime factory owner who saved over 1000 Jews. Jonas-Rosenzweig met Schindler during the war, and when Goeth was finally arrested, Schindler himself stood at the steps of the villa and offered to take her to safety.

"Inheritance" climaxes with rarely seen footage of the Goeth's hanging, which the filmmakers pried from the reluctant hands of the Polish government. Monika was a one year old when her father was executed.

Moll only provides enough historical background to tell this particular story, a wise choice that makes the movie not so much about the Holocaust, but about how the Holocaust's incalculable emotional cost is a lifetime burden on those who don't deserve it. He ends his tale by implying that Hertwig and Jonas-Rosenzweig's fateful meeting has provided a semblance of closure. But really, there will be no closure for either woman until both have passed away. In becoming an essential Holocaust sidebar, "Inheritance" will hopefully insure that the offspring of perpetrators and survivors won't convict each other for crimes they neither committed nor witnessed and that their ancestry should be deemed a matter of coincidence, not fate. Directed by James Moll. Produced by Christopher Pavlick and James Moll. No distributor set. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 75 min

Tags: James Moll. Produced by Christopher Pavlick and James Moll, Documentary, closure, holocaust, Concentration Camp, war
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