Inheritance by James Moll is the last film of POV’s 2008 season, and it’s a stunner. It tells the story of Monika Hertwig, the daughter of mass murderer Amon Goeth, and her emotional meeting with Helen Jonas, one of her father’s victims during World War II.
Inheritance airs on select PBS stations next 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.
Monika never knew her father and grew up believing that he had died during the war. But when she was 11 years old, her mother, in a moment of anger, said “You are like your father and you will die like him!” Monika was stunned; as she learned more about her father, she was horrified by his legacy. Amon Goeth is the Nazi commander of the Plaszow concentration camp (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List) who oversaw the death of thousands of Jews.
Helen Jonas was 15 years old when she arrived with other Jews at the Plaszow camp in Poland, which was both a work camp and a death camp. One day, an imposing SS officer pointed at her and ordered, “I want her in my house.” That officer was Amon Goeth. Helen lived in the basement of the “beautiful villa” that he had built for himself and his wife. She worked as a house servant for Goeth, who would beat her while hurling vulgar invectives. She witnessed innumerable acts of murder and brutality. Her mother, her boyfriend, and thousands of others died in Plaszow.
When Monika reached out to Helen asking for a meeting, Helen initially resisted the idea. She feels sorry for Monika, but asks why should she be expected to help the child of a “perpetrator”? Eventually she realizes that returning to Poland and meeting Monica might serve her own emotional need to find answers. The women arrange to meet at the Plaszow camp memorial to the unnamed thousands who died there. The meeting, with Helen’s daughter Vivian accompanying her, must count as one of the most heartrending and searing evocations of the Holocaust’s legacy ever filmed — especially when the women visit the “beautiful villa,” which still stands today with its horrible memories for Helen and implacable reality for Monika.
Monika says, “Every father who is in a war should think about his children… they will never live a normal life.” What can Monika and Helen’s children and grandchildren take away from the meeting between the two women? Do you relate to one of the women in the film more than the other, and if so, why? How can children of perpetrators deal with their family legacy?