Ask the Filmmaker: Inheritance’s James Moll

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James MollWhen Inheritance filmmaker James Moll was working on a film for the Schindler’s List DVD about Oskar Schindler’s survivors, he needed to obtain permission to use a photograph of Nazi commander Amon Goeth. The photograph was owned by Goeth’s daughter, Monika Hertwig, and when James called her at home in Germany, they began having a conversation about the photograph.

Inheritance airs on select PBS stations on Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 9 PM. (Schedules vary, so check your local listings.) The film will also be available in its entirety online from December 11, 2008 to January 4, 2009 on the POV website.

As James recounts in his filmmaker interview with POV, in the middle of their conversation, Monika suddenly said, “You know, I am not my father.” For her, living as the daughter of Amon Goeth has been extremely difficult. She asked James if he knew of any way to meet Helen Jonas, who had been enslaved by her father.

After James put the two women in touch with each other, they decided to meet at the Plaszow concentration camp in Poland, where Helen had lived as a servant in Goeth’s villa, and where she had witnessed his cruelty and murderousness firsthand. Inheritance documents the extraordinary meeting between Monika and Helen as they delve into the past, into the question of family history and legacy, of guilt on the part of the children of perpetrators and of the question of forgiveness.

For James, Inheritance is “a film that raises questions about what our parents did and how we each carry with us the consequences of our parents’ actions.” Do you have a question for James about the film? Leave your question in the comments below, and he will answer select questions on the POV Blog.

Added December 12, 2008: If you have a note that you would like to send directly to Helen or Monika, please leave a comment in this entry and we will make sure to pass it along to them.

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.
  • D. Mark Fette

    FOREIGNID: 18069
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    …what was your father like?…my father was quite similar to Monika’s though, thank God, he abandoned us when I was 6 or 7…do you have children?…did the making of the film affect how you view the roles of parents and their children as they strive to form a family?…peace—>mark

  • janet

    FOREIGNID: 18070
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    This was a moving film which raised a question in my mind regarding the death of Primo Levi. I’d always fought against the idea that his death was a suicide. After watching this film I am now, not so sure. Perhaps, like Helen’s husband he was tormented by his concentration camp experience and pain was too great to live with any longer.

  • Kitty Ruskin

    FOREIGNID: 18071
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I was really moved by your documentary. Monika seems to be carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. I hope she can get some professional help to get her through this experience. I cannot imagine what it would be like to carry a burden like that-a monster for a father and apparently an uncaring mother. Lucky she had a loving grandmother. I was curious as to whether the Villa was now a private home or is it maintained as a museum as part of the former concentration camp? Congratulations on a story that we all need to hear. We cannot file that horrendous episode away in the back of our minds. As the brave Helena said, we cannot forget. Thank you for a compelling program.

  • http://Jeroldrnp@aol.com Rosemarie

    FOREIGNID: 18072
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I am deeply moved from tonights film, Inheritance. I am German living in the USA for 44 years and not jewish. I am sad for Helen and her family and hope
    in time she will find peace. I learned a lot tonight from our past and I feel such sorrow for all the people who died.

  • Kathy

    FOREIGNID: 18073
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I was born in 1951 and was not taught much about the Holocaust in school. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I saw a documentary on tv about the concentration camps. I sat crying in horror at the realization of what occurred during the war. Your film, Inheritance, is such a very unique look at the victims of the Holocaust. I was struck by Helen’s strength in dealing with all she lived throught as a Jewish prisoner, but I was extremely touched by Monika’s need to reconcile what her father did and what her mother didn’t do. I want to thank you for making this film! It really focuses on how children/adults have to struggle with the sins committed by the parents.

  • Rhonda

    FOREIGNID: 18074
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Hello, this is an incredible and moving film that deals with a devastating subject in a thoughtful and honorable way. Is there any way for us to contact Helen and Monika via this site? I know it would give me great pleasure to tell them how much it meant to me to share, even if only for a moment, their daily pain and struggle, and to see the world from their eyes.

  • http://Firefox Gilberte

    FOREIGNID: 18075
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    . This documentary is extremely moving. I am a Jewish child survivor ….
    Thank you James Moll , they never kissed. Forgive ? But never forget.

  • Brenda

    FOREIGNID: 18076
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    What a powerful story! Yes, we must NEVER forget–or deny the Holocaust! I, like Kathy was born in early 1950s. For some reason we were not told much about the Holocaust, either. When I did find out, I spent years reading every book I could get my hands, every movie I could watch, & all documentaries available to me as my ‘education’ about this atrocity. I see Monika as a child of innocence. What could she have done at this time? Nothing. Now she is trying to do whatever is in her power to tell the world how wrong her mother & father (& all others responsible) were. Do you think she feels good about what her father was? Or her mother’s indifference? NO. And Monika needs to be told that she is not responsible & she is not to blame. She is carrying a HUGE burden. She is doing all in her power to prevent another Holocaust by telling her very personal, painful story. Helen, I love you & your people. How could such a horror occur in the 20th century? Please forgive Monika. Yes, you needed to go back to Poland, but Monika needs to be told that she is appreciated for what she is doing now, too. As part Native American, I can certainly feel what has happened to you, Helen. Our Native land (America) land and all our rights were taken away. Our people were lied to and slaughtered. Not to the extreme degree the Jews were. But–that is now in the past. We must move on and pray for Peace and Goodwill to all Men on Earth. And, educate our children. Do NOT let the world forget! Helen & Monika, thank you both for doing just that.

  • http://pacificus.org Stephen Edward Seadler

    FOREIGNID: 18077
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I’m a Senior Citizen macho-type Christian male who was a soldier during WWII, yet I was in tears from the juncture where Monika and Helena meet at Plaszow to the end of the film. My work in the realm of War/Peace has been much Holocaust-drive, and led to my magnum opus “PRINCIPIA IDEOLOGICA: A Treatise On Combatting Human Malignance,” researched and written over six years as Guest Scholar at Princeton University. Concerned viewers are urged to visit my webtract FATAL FLAW AND A SWORD at pacificus.org. Thank you very much for that extraordinary, searing and most valuable documentary experience.

  • Gillian

    FOREIGNID: 18078
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    The courage these two remarkable women showed both to share their personal storires and to come together to meet at the camp was heroic, magnificent, and unprecedented.
    I was hoping to hear the one tell the other what was so obvious from her body language, that if she could, she would atone for her father’s sins… thereby leaving it to the other to understand what she knew already, that the tragic truth is God has robbed her friend of that choice; and for the other to acknowledge the fact and forgive her friend the happenstance of her parentage, even though it’s not her place to forgive it. I was bouncing on the edge of the sofa gunning for them to do this for eachother and then to embrace.
    I hope they get there one day soon, maybe over cappuccino and a couple of ponchki in an outdoor cafe. H/S said it, “it’s a matter of choice.”
    For entirely different reasons, these two women have my deepest respect and sympathy. Together they have done a great thing and will do more, no doubt.

  • saul sokol

    FOREIGNID: 18079
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    You may use HTML tags for style and links.I feel as James Moll said,”6when you here 6 million killed in discussions at school or socially it doesn’t mean much. The problem is it meant people, not an arithmetic number.Helen and Monika. One survivor and the other a daughther of a fiend. We should never forget this, because it is happening again in Africa.

  • E Gallegos Fukuda

    FOREIGNID: 18080
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I LOVED this film. This film was extremely hard to watch, but it was a film that I have been waiting for since I began studying the history of the holocaust.
    I had always wondered what the perpatrators children were like, what they knew of what their parents had done, what they thought of what their parents had done, what they thought of Jews, what the yfelt about the concentration camps.
    This film had to be made, and other films like it have to be made. The Children of the survivors and the children of the perpatrators have to be seen and heard. They are NOT their parents, they have nothing to feel guilty about, and they have nothing to fear. They need to know the truth, the ugly, the beatiful, the whole truth, from both sides.
    I would love to see another film like this with other children of survivors and perpatrators.

  • Sandy

    FOREIGNID: 18081
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    My father is a Schindler survivor who worked in the kitchen and in the garage at Plaszow. He is eager to talk about his experiences with James Moll (he has an unusual perspective that is worth exploring) and would very much like to get in touch with Helen Jonas, who he thinks he may have known.

  • Gerard

    FOREIGNID: 18082
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I have read many books and watched equally as many documentaries on the Holocaust, but none have moved me as much as this film. I wept for both Helen and Monika and for the victims of Amon Goth. I was born into and Irish Catholic family in Ireland, but I have always been drawn to the plight of the Jews of Europe and how such horific crimes against them were allowed to happen. Perhaps, it’s because my people died in the millions of starvation at the hands of the British and nothing was done to stop it. I think schools around the world must teach children about these horific crimes against humanity and perhaps by doing so, it will instill in them what it means to be human. My thoughts are with the Jewish people, they have had to bear so much in this world; they are truly “Gods’ Holy People”.

  • Angelsings

    FOREIGNID: 18083
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    James Moll’s true life film Inheritance is magnificent, poignant , indelible & heartrending! In me, it evoked the total randomness of parentage & reinforced my own thankfulness for having been blessed with wonderful parents. As Monika & Helen moved from room to room throughout the ‘mansion’, many thoughts & questions rushed to my mind, i.e., was Monika conceived in the “round bed” in the ‘master’ (how ironic) bedroom Helen recounted? It was difficult for me to perceive of this man ever being capable of intimacy with anyone. I was educated in good schools in Southern California post WWII but don’t recall any mention of the Holocaust until I saw the movie The Diary of Anne Frank. WHY was that? Was pretending that something didn’t happen, erase it from actuality & history? This film prodded me to, again, wonder if Charles Manson fathered any children &, if so, what became of them with the legacy of having had him biologically father them. The rectification of man’s inhumanity to man has long been on my agenda as a human being & as an educator. In my life & career, I take even the smallest opportunity to raise people’s consciousness that we all are in this life together & need to treat one another with loving care & to respect, even embrace, our differences & diversity even if at opposite ends of the spectrum. Our treatment of one another begins in the cradle & concludes in the grave. Monstrous bullies such as Amon Goeth & Charles Manson are ‘raised’ not born; I doubt there are truly any genetic ‘bad seeds’.
    My question to James Moll regards the actual film footage of Goeth’s hanging execution that he used in the movie. Did you include it to punctuate/accentuate the Karma of Goeth’s heinous crimes or to provide some type of vicarious justice for the victims & survivors of the Holocaust such as ‘pound of flesh’ or ‘an eye for an eye or for what purpose(s)? I felt this segment of the film exacerbated the extreme trauma already being foisted upon them & endured by them . Please consider deleting or editing this. Thank you for this life-altering film ! !

  • Christina Braidotti

    FOREIGNID: 18084
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    You may use HTML tags for style and links.
    Dear James Moll,
    Your film can have a tremendous impact on Holocaust survivors and adult-children and grandchildren of the Nazi Reich all over the world. Here in Brookline, MA, I am a member of a Jewish and German dialogue group known as One by One, in existence since the early 90s. We have worked hard to achieve mutual respect and understanding (our goals) among our members. Most of our German members are from Berlin. I would like to contact Monika Hertwig to acquaint her with One by One, Inc. Could you possibly provide me some contact infomation?
    Thank you very much,
    Christina Braidotti

  • bernice

    FOREIGNID: 18085
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    All of the comments posted for POV’s “Inheritance” summed up the emotions
    I felt watching the documentary. The two women were extraordinary.
    I know that this must have been filmed a while ago. What happened to
    Helen and Monica?

  • Rebecca

    FOREIGNID: 18086
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Inheritance is a documentary to be shown in high schools where students are old enough to understand and not too young not to. Witnessing as they were “touring” the villa Monica commenting to Helen’s question “Why were they murdered” and her response so convincing stated due to sanitation- “they” were unclean with bad hygiene as a reason and Helen coming back at her emotionally saying- no, it was because they were Jews and taking a moment or so for Monica to “get it”- I couldn’t help but wonder how many more people held this same belief?? As Helen said- people need to get educated and I say Amen to that. By the way did Helen remarry (new name Rosenzweig)?

  • Aristides Pappidas

    FOREIGNID: 18087
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Mr. Moll: I’m still trembling in rage at PBS’s censorship of several of the utterances made by both Helen Jonas and Monica Hertwig. The gutless executives there found that it was fine to show photos of some of the most barbaric practices and their results (not excluding the footage of the hanging of Goeth) and fine to hear and read about the horrors perpetrated by Goeth and his minions, but it was not acceptable to hear a few expletives coming from the life experience of Mrs. Jonas, who not only had members of her own family murdered, but who also was brutalized repeatedly by Goeth, as well as witnessing him arbitrarily, on a whim, murdering prisoners just walking by as they moved to and from their slave labor jobs. Would any mature person be shocked at hearing this woman express her rage at what she witnessed? I think not.
    Joan Kroc made a gift of $200,000,000 (yes, $200 million) to PBS in 2003 and I only wish the upper echelon of PBS had a thousandth of the courage of Mrs. Jonas and encouraged the broadcast of ‘Inheritance’ as Mr. Moll created it. They would have taken a brave chance and should the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had the temerity to challenge the “indecency” of what was broadcast, many, many of the ‘people like you’, would have created a firestorm of protest.

  • Miriam Klein Hansen

    FOREIGNID: 18088
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I heard about this film on the radio interview with Mr. Moll and Monika. The most striking thing that was said was when Monika said something like, “IIf I had the chance to meet Helena again for the first time, if I had the chance to do it over again, I would not say anything at all. I would just listen.” That says it all.
    As a Jew born at the end of the war, I would like to thank Helena for her tremendous courage. As my mother (ave shulem) used to say, “A trillion thanks for this.”

  • Ted Michael Morgan

    FOREIGNID: 18089
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Thank you for a powerufl and deeply moivng documentary. .

  • http://www.katlinconsulting.com Bruce Katlin

    FOREIGNID: 18090
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    James: thank you for such a wonderful film. Is there an email address to contact Monika Hertwig?

  • Rick Maxted

    FOREIGNID: 18091
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    When I saw this documentery the very first thing that came to my mind is here are two people who should have had grief counselling before they met.
    Their wounds are very deep and bringing them together this way has not resolved anything between them. Both are innocent victims of a very brutal man. I felt very sorry for both.

  • anonymous

    FOREIGNID: 18092
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    What an eye opening documentary. I have to say that I came away feeling much more sympathy for Monika in this story than for Helen. It seems a lot more tortuous to have to live with the consequences of actions taken by self-deluded parents than to carry the chalice of the victims. Survivors on the victim’s of this tragedy have a coherent emotional and moral picture of historical events. On the perpetrator’s side (I’m not really sure why I’m using the word “side” but it seems appropriate), there’s lots of loneliness, doubt, shame, and certainly no moral closure.

  • Harriet Taber

    FOREIGNID: 18093
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Questions:
    I would like to know more about Ruth Irene Kalder (Goeth). Is it possible that she was or believed she was hiding her own Jewishness somehow? Who were her parents? What sort of actress was she – what films did she play in?
    I would like to know more about Amon Goeth’s upbringing, his family, his siblings. I would also like to know what happened to his other children and how they felt about their father and his role in the Holocaust.
    I would like to know whether Monika has read Alice Miller’s works relating the Holocaust to German brutal and sadistic child-rearing practices in the early part of the 20th century? What does Monika know about her parents’ childhoods, their propensity in Miller’s words, “to protect the parent” at the cost of others (e.g., Amon Goeth’s treatment of the Jews) or themselves (e.g., Monika’s daughter’s drug addiction) or both (e.g., Ruth Goeth’s idolatry and adoration of her brutal husband, her passivity in the face of his brutality)? Monika faces in her own family the perplexing question faced by all (honest) Germans/Austrians: who are we that our forbearers were either cruel criminals or appreciative onlookers or both. Note that this question must be faced by honest Americans (vis a vis treatment of Native Americans, enslaved Africans, American Blacks, Vietnamese, Muslims in Guantanamo Bay, and the list goes on); by honest Chinese (vis a vis Tibetans); by honest Japanese (vis a vis Chinese); by honest Turks (vis a vis Armenians); by honest Rwandan Hutus (vis a vis Rwandan Tutsis), and this list goes on backward and forward through time. Note also that it’s not simply about race, religion, or ethnicity – ingroups/outgroups can be and are created at the drop of a hat based on any criterion amongst humans (see Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches for an insightful cut-to-the bone parody of this human propensity), and humans (some humans) will exploit/ torment/murder any member of a perceived outgroup just as Amon Goeth did. Easy as it is to call Goeth an evil monster (and his behaviours were monstrous and evil), it is very very likely that he was reared to become a monster (read Miller to understand the splitting-projection mechanisms by which this can happen to humans). To the extent that we particularize the events of the Holocaust to a place (Germany/Austria) and time (the aftermath of WWI for Germans) and person (Goeth or Hitler or Mengele), to the extent that we are satisfied with an explanation that lies in the details of those particulars (Goeth was an evil, monster, Hitler was an evil monster, Mengele was an evil monster), we are in denial. The ultimate result of such denial (if Miller is right) is that we (as humans) are destined either to perpetrate such crimes in the future or to stand by and allow such crimes to be perpetrated.

  • Susan Graham

    FOREIGNID: 18094
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Something disturbed me about Monika’s comments about “why” her father murdered Jews. Helen was quite upet about how to explain goeth’s Antisemitism and I caught some of Monika’s denial. I wonder if this is a defensive action. I was watching Monika when Helen was having flashbacks in the Villa, and I somehow sensed Monika’s discomfort. Do some of the perpetrators’ relatives worry that the evilness somehow survives in them? I also sensed that there is guilt in Monika and she is still awkward wtih this, and wants to control it. (another defense mechanism). She was clearly uncomfortable with Helen’s justified outrage. I am not sure how these two could ever be on the same wavelength. I have not seen two people so obviously mismatched in a documentary for quite some time. Perhaps they work better apart, though for the same reasons–to instill in people to Never Forget, and to Always Remember. Perhaps Monika might work on her control and denial issues.

  • crystal

    FOREIGNID: 18095
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    hello
    This was a great educational film have you done any more I would like to see your other work. I do have a question why did you show Amon Goeth’s hanging? He was an awful man and I know this and I know Monica know this as well since it was apparent how awful she feels. I just felt sick to my stomach so iwas wondering if thats why I always feel sick to my stomach when I see what happend to all the Jewish people too It makes me cry alot. thanx for making this film and I hope you can answer my questions crystal 27 years old

  • karin l

    FOREIGNID: 18096
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I was born in East Berlin in 1950, but like 3 million others fled with my mother to the west. My father was on the Russian front and eventually became a prisoner of war by the Americans. Both my parents did not speak of the war very much and yet like many, many other German born ‘baby boomers’ I feel the guilt of ‘my fathers’. Your documentary was exceptional ,beautifully filmed and above all necessary. Thank you to you and to the two brave ladies who would bare their souls – Helen and Monika.

  • Mrs. D. Kronenberg

    FOREIGNID: 18097
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    You may use HTML tags for style and links. Hello, My husband and I were riveted by this educations tv show on P.O.V. Tuesday evening. We were wondering about Amon Goeth’s history; in view of a question Helen asked Monika about what made him so evil. We felt that same way, did he have some horrific experience in childhood that made him so cruel, violent and without consciene? We felt that was never really answered and perhaps there is no real answer. Our best regards to both Helen and Monika for doing what they can to educate today’s young people, support survivors and help us all to pray this never occurs again!

  • Larry

    FOREIGNID: 18098
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Anyone interested in learning more should read Schindler’s List.
    http://tinyurl.com/6zp8u8
    The book goes into great detail about everything seen in this documentary (including Helen’s conversations with Schindler), and is a must read.

  • Steve Sansing

    FOREIGNID: 18099
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I wanted to tell Mr. Moll how much I enjoyed his film. I didn’t know of Goeth’s daughter or the survivor from the villa. I had seen Schindler’s List (as well as countless other Holocaust stories) and was intrigued. I’ve been highly interested in holocaust stories for years and in filmmaking (certainly documentaries). You did something that I would have done if I could. Thank you for making it and “hats off” to you. I would love to work with you if you are ever in Knoxville, TN!

  • Magdalena

    FOREIGNID: 18100
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    “Letter for Monika” from Magdalena in Miami, Florida
    I would like to get in touch with you by email.

  • BJINLA

    FOREIGNID: 18101
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Mr Mott:
    I saw “Inheritance” last night (1/03/09) on KCET’s P.O.V. here in Los Angeles. Your documentary film absorbed me as Monika spoke about her father — so detached and uneducated about his function in the Great War. I felt sad for her as she seemed to be a loving individual who was hit with the reality that her father was a murdering monster who killed Jews for the Nazis. Her mother knew that Monika’s father was a raving monster and did nothing try and stop him. Pitiful! And Helen (Suzanna) was so brave to go back to Poland and meet with Monika. When they walked into the villa where Monika’s father had held Helen (Suzanna) and another Jewish girl as house slaves, I shuddered and chilled to my bones. I am the fourth generation of Americans of African and Native American ancestry. Thank you for your gift to the world of this deeply moving film. We should never, ever forget so that those amongst us who are evil and insane will not dare think of trying to repeat such crimes against humanity. Again, thank you, Mr. Mott.

  • http://myspace.com/rasta_maniak Nowak

    FOREIGNID: 19912
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Great story to make a documentary. Any idea how I can see this doc in Poland? I live in Cracow and I have seen the camp and villa itself and all I can tell you is that you feel that horrible thrill on your back when you stand there. I would appreciate any help if you can share this doc with me.

  • Earl

    FOREIGNID: 23511
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Is Helen Jonas involved in speaking with kids about her story?