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Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★★★☆

My Father’s Keeper is based mainly on the extensive 1959 interviews of children of high-ranking Nazis by Norbert Lebert (who died in 1993). These interviews detail what happened to the children of Nazi war criminals right when the war ended and in the 15 years after. Norbert Lebert’s son, Stephan, then follows up (or attempts to) with the “Nazi children” in 1999-2000 to learn about their lives in the subsequent decades.

The book focuses on Wolf Rüdiger Hess, son of Rudolf Hess; Martin Bormann, Jr., son of Martin Bormann; Niklas and Norman Frank, sons of Hans Frank; Gudrun Himmler, daughter of Heinrich Himmler; Edda Göring, daughter of Hermann Göring; Robert and Klaus von Schirach, sons of Baldur von Schirach; and Karl-Otto Saur Jr., son of Karl-Otto Saur.

Some of these “Nazi children” forged a different path and distanced themselves from their fathers’ crimes; some embraced the ideology of their fathers and defended them even decades later. Most loved their fathers still. Some found their fathers’ names to be a detriment; others still reaped the benefits of their Nazi connections. But none can be held guilty for their fathers’ war crimes.

The narrative is a bit disjointed, shifting from the 1959 manuscripts by Norbert Lebert to the later interviews by Stephan Lebert. Stephan Lebert also attempts to discuss the psychological aspects of being a child of a high-ranking Nazi, and how that shaped their early years and contributed to the paths they took later in life. There are quotes from researchers on the subject, some comparisons to the psychological trauma of the children of Holocaust survivors, and even how the German mentality in the 1950s was to sweep the horrors of the war under the rug, rebuild, and move on. But mostly My Father’s Keeper is merely a collection of biographical stories about the “Nazi children.”

There is much to ponder within these stories — like how much guilt, if any, should they bear; whether they should have been allowed to just pick up their lives, albeit without the money and comforts they enjoyed as children during the Third Reich, when so many lives were lost at their fathers’ hands; how to separate their suffering as the children of the perpetrators from the suffering of the victims and their children; whether one should feel sorry for their harsh treatment based on their parentage (they were children, after all); and how they could possibly feel love for their fathers after learning the full extent of their crimes. How could some turn a blind eye to that as they grew into adults? There is no clear answer to any of these questions, but they certainly provide much food for thought.

I had a hard time reading these stories, especially the ones where the children continued to adore their fathers long after the war. But I was fascinated with the psychology behind their stories and felt like I learned a lot from these “case studies.” If you are like me and read as much as you can about World War II, this book is not to be missed.

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