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Docurama // Unrated // January 6, 2009
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted July 6, 2009 | E-mail the Author
In the sixty-plus years since the end of World War II, Monika Hertwig never quite came to terms with the dark truth that her father was Amon Goeth. She's spent most of her life hiding being lies and justifications passed down by her mother, while also haunted by cold reality of history. Most of us have struggled to understand pure evil, wondering how anyone could be so vile; most of us also eventually give up, assuming evil on this scale is something that can never be truly understood. Monika does not have that luxury. She's determined to figure out who this man was.

Watching her in this simple but stunning documentary from James Moll (he also made the Oscar-winning "The Last Days"), it's clear that years of mentally blocking herself off from the truth has left her shy, quiet, and gawky, completely ill at ease socially, hiding behind a mop of hair that often hides her eyes. When she repeats in public some offensive nonsense her mother once taught her regarding excuses behind the Holocaust, she has to be scolded for her behavior (she won't stop insisting that her lies are truth, long beyond how any sensible adult would handle such a conversation) and informed, repeatedly, that she's been misled. Watching Monika react to this is like watching a child flinch at the thought of being grounded.

The film opens with an interview with Hertwig, who explains that her father's identity was kept from her as a child - she was only told that her father died in the war, and that he was "such a nice man." It wasn't until the mid-1950s, when she was eleven years old and fighting with her mother on a regular basis, that she was told the truth.

It's a bit unclear how deeply she buried such information as the decades passed; her story skips forward to the release of "Schindler's List," which reminded the world - and Monika - of Goeth's murders at Plaszow. Hertwig talks of how she "hated" Spielberg for the movie, as it made her confront a reality from which she could no longer hide. (Moll relies a bit too much on scenes from Spielberg's film - and from other documentaries made around the same time - but the effect is worth it.)

We also meet Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, who, at age fourteen, worked as a household servant - a slave, really - for Goeth at Plaszow. Now living in America, she shares her memories of being beaten and pushed down stairs.

Jonas-Rosenzweig spent some time in the post-"Schindler's List" years being interviewed about her experiences, and it was on German television that Hertwig found her. Moll eventually arranged a meeting at Monika's request; could the survivor help the daughter understand what happened?

What follows is, of course, heartbreaking, as the two agree to meet in Poland - at Plaszow itself, where the house Goeth lived still stands, where a marker explains that thousands of Jews were killed here but remain unidentified. Seeing either one of them encounter the place would be enough, especially as Helen makes her way through the house, recalling the view out the window, shuddering at the sight of the staircase. But together, it becomes a teaching experience, Monika slowly realizing how many lies she's been told over the years.

From here, "Inheritance" becomes more than just a study in the emotional legacy of the Holocaust; it's a study in human nature itself. There's great fascination in watching the body language of both women as they attempt to allow themselves to comfort each other yet aren't sure about keeping their distance as well. Monika has come here seeking absolution, to be freed from her father's legacy (even before she meets Helen, her habit is to distance herself from Goeth's villainy, letting us know she's not like him), yet Helen, forever tormented by her own closeness with Goeth, admits that she'll never be able to forgive, and Monika must learn that such things are impossible.

Moll's film keeps raising questions as it goes. How deeply should we bury the past, or how openly should we allow it to haunt us? Does Monika's own problems with understanding her history reflect Germany itself, which has long struggled to reconcile its former self?

Hertwig starts the film with an admonition that "every father who is in a war should think about his children." She calls her father "selfish" for bringing her into the world without thinking of the legacy she that would burden her forever. As we see her raising her grandson, we wonder. Can he escape the guilt that overwhelmes Monika? How far removed can one be from sin before forgiveness is possible?


Video & Audio

There's nothing fancy to the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors is fair and detail is surprisingly nice. Archival footage varies in quality, understandably, while new footage is solid enough.

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is basic but spot-on clear. A musical score is used sparingly, but to nice effect. No subtitles are included.


A "Behind the Scenes" section is divided into two featurettes. First, the plainly titled "Interview with the Director and Cinematographer" (4:52) is as straightforward as it sounds, with Moll and cinematographer Harris Done briefly detailing how the film came to be and how emotionally charged the filming was.

Second is "Behind the Score" (5:45), which offers no dialogue, instead opting to present highlights from the film's gorgeous musical score over video of the recording session.

The film's trailer (2:22), a text bio for Moll, and a batch of Docurama previews round out the set.

Final Thoughts

"Inheritance" is at times difficult to watch due to its emotional strength, and most of you will do fine with a rental - especially since there's not much to the extras to make repeat viewings worth it. But the film is strong enough on its own for it to be Recommended to anyone with a strong interest in such personal journeys.
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