Cutting the line

BBC News Magazine has today published an article about the troubled descendants of Nazi war criminals. Featured in the powerful and moving piece by Frances Cronin are Rainer Höss, grandson of Auschwitz death camp commander Rudolf Höss, Katrin Himmler, great-niece of key Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler, Monika Hertwig, daughter of Płaszów commander Amon Göth, and Bettina Göring, great-niece of Hitler’s designated successor Hermann Göring.

While any and all discussion of the Shoah should focus on the victims of the Nazis, it is worth looking at those the Nazis left behind, including their families. For several decades we have seen descendants express shame at the crimes of their parents, but the danger is that such outpourings of grief can become ritualistic, as can expressions of forgiveness from Holocaust survivors. How in practice do the children of the Nazis cope in their own lives with what happened in the distant past, often long before they were conceived?

In a dramatic and terminal course of action to deal with this terrible legacy, Bettina Göring and her brother chose sterilisation. “”We both did it,” she says, “so that there won’t be any more Görings.”. Bettina’s brother told her that he had gone for the snip in order to “cut the line”.

Cut the line? While one can understand the motivation for this action, was it necessary, or right? Do the children of the Nazis bear personal guilt for the crimes of their fathers?

“I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” [Exodus 20:5]

The Lord has a lot to answer for.