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Culture

My Grandfather, the Nazi

What did grandfather do during the war? Jens Schanze deals with the question in his documentary "Winterkinder" (Winter's Children), a journey into his family's past that was especially painful for his mother.

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Jens Schanze uncovered his grandfather's Nazi past

Don't ever say "Nazi," say "National Socialist," Antonie Schütze used to say to her son, Jens Schanze.

As if it made a difference, he always thought.

But Schütze insisted on "National Socialist" when speaking about her father, whom she always described as "our good father." Schanze never quite understood this as his mother was talking about a man, who was no small-time Nazi follower.

Instead, he was one of the Nazis highest functionaries in Lower Silesia, which now forms part of Poland. He was a member of the SA, Hitler's private storm troopers and a fervent anti-Semite. And he followed Hitler faithfully to the end. After Schanze's grandfather died in 1954, his daughter remembered him with misty eyes covered by rose-colored glasses.

Approachi n g the truth

Winterkinder

Schanze's mother with a picture of her father

Schanze, who was born in 1971, cautiously tried to bring out into the open her idealization of her father. He didn't reproach her but only asked neutral questions. What she couldn't reportedly remember, he gathered from his grandfather's letters, which he himself had often read.

In these letters he found anti-Semitic diatribes and songs in praise of Hitler. With the help of letters, family photos and other documents, he created a new picture of his grandfather. Even his older sisters joined in. Their childhoods were marked with chilliness and silence. The war was -- with an unspoken order -- always a forbidden topic.

His grandfather's involvement with the Nazis was long kept quiet by the family. As a result, the decision by his mother to allow Schanze, a filmmaker, to produce a critical examination of his grandfather brought unexpected turmoil to the family. It changed family relationships in important ways.

Breaki n g the sile n ce

In one of the most moving scenes of the film, Schanze's mother stands in front of a cremation oven at a concentration camp in Lower Silesia and breaks down in tears.

Winterkinder

Schanze's parents

"Winter's Children" tells a piece of German contemporary history, which documents the filmmaker's search for his grandfather behind his mother's stories and the conflict between his and his grandparent's generation.

With great intensity, the film devotes itself to the questions such as: What effect does the silence within German families after World War II, still have on the present generation? What kind of values were communicated by the parents who had grown up with the ideology of National Socialism and who, as children, were traumatized by the war?

Outside of Germany, it is commonly recognized that the country has adequately dealt with its past. But three years ago, a poll of Germans found a surprising result: Almost half the population believes that their family members took a stance of opposition during the time of National Socialism.

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