In the winter of 2003, I first contacted Monika Hertwig, the daughter of Amon Goeth, to ask for her permission to use photographs of her father in a documentary we were producing for the 10th-anniversary Schindler’s List DVD release. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect from Monika, but I was certainly surprised that she spoke such perfect English. When I told her so, she laughed and explained that her first boyfriend was American. She was charming. Friendly. Easy to talk to. Monika and I had a very pleasant conversation, and she gave her consent to use the photographs.
Then suddenly, Monika surprised me with a statement completely off the subject. She said, “I am not my father.” I immediately got chills. That seemingly small comment weighted with massive implication triggered a turning point in our conversation.
What struck me in that moment was her need to declare, to a total stranger, that she was not in any way responsible for the actions of her father, a man who murdered thousands of innocent people. The more I thought about her comment, the more it fascinated me. It stayed with me. It was the first time that I had stopped and thought about what it may be like to be the child of someone capable of such blatant inhumanity, and consequently, about the burden that Monika must carry.
“I am not my father.” That one statement became the genesis of Inheritance.
From further conversations with Monika, I learned more about this legacy left to her by her father. Her honesty was compelling. She told me that after watching Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of her father in Schindler’s List, she “hated” Steven Spielberg. Witnessing the representations of her father and mother in the film deeply disturbed Monika; she left the theater feeling distressed and unsettled. Ultimately, Monika’s shame became the catalyst for her quest to understand the truth about her family and reconcile the legacy she had no choice but to inherit.
During that same period in 2003, I attended an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Shoah Foundation and met Helen Jonas, a survivor of the Plaszow Concentration Camp. Helen is a Schindler survivor, and her testimony was featured in Voices From the List, the documentary we produced for the Schindler’s List DVD. Her story is remarkable. She lived, enslaved, as Goeth’s housemaid in the villa he shared with Ruth Kalder, Monika’s mother, during his command over Plaszow.
While speaking with Helen that day, I mentioned my conversation with Monika. But Helen clearly didn’t want to hear anything about Monika. She didn’t want to hear the name “Goeth.” Later, however, Helen took me aside and quietly said she’d like to continue the conversation.
Monika knew of Helen from a very early age. Growing up, Monika listened to her mother’s stories about Amon Goeth’s villa at Camp Plaszow and her memories of Helen. Because of this, Monika felt a connection to Helen. Monika reached out to Helen as part of reconciling her past and asked if they could meet.
Helen was extremely reluctant to meet Monika. Understandably, she felt conflicted about returning to the villa for the first time and meeting the daughter of a man who caused such an infinite amount of pain in her life. In an unscheduled on-camera interview after their meeting, I learned of a secret Helen had carried for years, giving greater perspective in understanding her trepidation in meeting Monika. But in the end, Helen told me her responsibility as a parent and grandparent persuaded her to accept Monika’s invitation to meet, for the first time, at the Plaszow Concentration Camp.
— James Moll, Producer/ Director/ Editor