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Posner, Hitler's Children, book cover

Never Mind the Extermination of a Nation

Book Essay on:
Gerald L. Posner, Hitler’s Children: Sons and Daughters of Leaders of the Third Reich Talk about their Fathers and Themselves
(New York: Random House Inc., 1991), 239 pages

by Timothy Beckett
June 5, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
at amazon

About Timothy Beckett

I am a junior transfer history and sports management major mostly studying modern European and American History. I am interested in Germany’s History after the end of WWII and how the division of Germany affects German nationalism. I chose this book on children of prominent Nazis to see just how they viewed their parents in the light of what the Holocaust accomplished in killing the Jews.

Abstract (back to top)

Hitler’s Children is about the relationships between children and their actively involved Nazi fathers, and how their fathers’ involvement in WWII and the Holocaust affects them today. It has to be the hardest thing for a little kid to hear that their father is sentenced to life in prison or death because of his actions as a Nazi. Posner does a series of interviews with each former Nazi youth, focusing on their relationships with their fathers. Posner alludes to two main questions that he wants each person to answer.

  • Was it an advantage to be the son or daughter of a Nazi father?
  • Would you have turned in your father as a war criminal knowing what your fathers’ role was in the war and the Holocaust?
Unlike previous books written on the topic of Nazi youth, Hitler’s Children reveals the actual birth names of the youth and their respective fathers, allowing for no anonymity and a full history of what their fathers’ role was in the Second World War.

Essay (back to top)


Less than a century ago, an entire nation tried to completely erase from existence another group of people. That nation was Germany and the group of people being killed was the Jews. It is clear that nearly the entire world has good enough morals to recognize that the extermination of the Jews was wrong and ramifications for participating in such a movement cost important Nazis their lives at the Nuremberg trials directly following World War II. Many books have been written on the topic of the Holocaust and WWII and other very similar topics of the era between 1930 and 1950, but by the late 1980s there were a few authors who wished to look at the effects on children during the war years. Specifically how children of wartime Nazis dealt with their parents past involvement with the war and how does their parents’ actions affect their lives today. At that time some books that address that very issue were already underway and Gerald Posner needed a spin on a topic already in the works. While the other books had an easier time of getting former Nazi children to talk by promising anonymity, Posner required that the people he would talk to go on record under their birth names and their Nazi parent’s name also be used to give a better understanding of where the former child was coming from (p. 7).

The people he interviewed were the children of prominent Nazis heavily involved in the war, and in many cases had contact with Hitler on a personal basis (p. 7). Some of these include the sons of the “Butcher of Poland,” the son of the “Angel of Death,” a daughter of an early party member, and the daughter of a failed Hitler assassin. They sat down on several occasions each to discuss their memories with Posner of their fathers during the war and after. They would reveal to Posner the most personal aspects of their relationships with the male role models in their lives. For some those men were very honest about what they did during the war and others who never told their kids what they did and the child would later have to find out in school or on their own. As these interviews took place, it seemed to be a psychological healing experience for the children of the former Nazis. What is clear through reading the book is that the interviewees held little back in terms of word choice and feelings for their parent. This book simply tells readers what is like to live under the shadow of Nazi parent who was well aware of the massacring of Jews and with that knowledge continued to support and enact the policies of Hitler.

The Two Questions

There are two questions that most of those being interviewed end up answering at the end of their interview with Posner, and seem to be the two things that Posner really wants to know. Was being the son or daughter of their parent an advantage or a disadvantage? Given the opportunity, knowing what they know of their father and what he did during the war, would they have turned them in as a war criminal after the war was over? The answers given by those interviewed for the former question was generally that it was a disadvantage, and for the latter question the answer was dependant on what kind of relationship the child had with the father. For example, if there was quality time spent with the child, he or she would not have turned them in. Or those who had little contact with their father would have turned them in.

The Frank Brothers

Hans Frank was the Governor General of Poland. It was his job to turn Poland into Germany. That meant the killing of as many Polish Jews as humanly possible. Frank and Hitler were great friends and met through a trial in which Frank was representing a Nazi party member in a trial in which Hitler was a witness. After that encounter Frank became Hitler’s attorney and later rose to his position as governor of Poland (p. 14). Posner interviewed Frank’s two surviving sons, Norman and Niklas. Norman was the older of the two sons interviewed, the second born child of four children, and Niklas was the youngest of the family. Norman was very brief with his answers and more level headed when talking about his past and present situation. Niklas, on the other hand, was very emotional and wore his feelings on his sleeve and made it very evident that he hated his father (p. 12). In Niklas’ opinion it was a great advantage to be the son of “such a great criminal in Germany,” as a man of immense power, Frank and his family lived quite a lavish life with a few large castles and many vacation houses in Germany and Poland (p. 39). Niklas being the youngest and born well into the war, did not see much of his father as he, his mother and older sister Brigete lived separate from their father because of the marital strife between Hans and his wife. Norman differs in his opinion of being related as an advantage in Germany. Norman being the second born, oldest son was by far his father’s favorite child (p. 12). While the rest of the family was out of town a lot, he remained at home and spent some quality time with his father. He loved his father very much and has a great many good memories with his father. But Frank was out of town a lot and Norman also has a great many memories of being lonely in the castle and spending time reading the works of Mark Twain (p. 22). Still, the times when Hans was around to spend time with Norman were good, but there were not enough of those times. Norman sees being the son of such an important Nazi leader as a disadvantage because it took away his father, whom he dearly loved (p. 39). As for the question, would they have turned him in if he were a fugitive? Norman was the only one of the two brothers to answer. “No, I would never betray him. But that would have been terrible, maybe worse than if he had been in jail his whole life” (p. 40). To Norman, no matter what his father did, Hans was still a good father to him and Norman has nothing but the deepest love for him. His brother is quite the opposite, though he did not answer the question to turn his dad in directly, he did write an article for Stern magazine about his father’s decisions, which leads me to believe that his answer most definitely would have been yes.

Rolf Mengele and his “Uncle Fritz”

Joseph Mengele was a doctor at Auschwitz whose job it was to meet the incoming prisoners as they got off the train and first separate the new people into those who could work and those who could not work and would be gassed (p. 114). He also had an interest in twins and when he encountered those “specimens”, he would separate them and do various tests on them to see their reactions, like torturing one twin and leaving the other twin alone (p. 114). While his father was doing his Nazi duties at Auschwitz, determining which Jews were fit to die and which Jews were fit to work until they die, his son Rolf grew up without much contact with his father. When the war was over Joseph fled west, changed is name and worked on a remote farm to avoid being arrested. It was on this farm that a three-year-old Rolf visited his father from time to time, but Rolf has no recollection of those events because he was so young (picture, p. 118). Rolf believes that having such a famous Nazi father is an incredible disadvantage. Rolf talks about how he believes Nazis were definitely separated into either just Nazi party members and army, or the SS (p. 133). It was terrible to be related to just a Nazi party member or member of the German army because you got little in terms of amenities, but at the end of the war they were able to say they just wanted some economic change. The SS on the other hand had done a lot of terrible things that were more than just acts of war, but crimes on humanity with the slaughtering of the Jews (p. 133). After talking through the question of disadvantage, Rolf eventually came to the conclusion that, it’s hard to tell. He has no idea if when he is doing business with a Jew that they would continue to do business with him if they knew whom his father was (p. 133). An interesting fact, Rolf and his father did not have much of a relationship as he was growing up. When the war was over and Mengele was a wanted man, he fled the country to South America where he was safe among Nazi supporters (p. 118). Rolf did have contact with his father, but it was under the façade that Josef was really Rolf’s “Uncle Fritz” who would come tell stories about his actual father (pp. 119-120). When Rolf was about twelve years old, he was told the truth about who his father was and at this moment he became aware of what his father did (p. 121). Rolf’s relationship with his father at a young age was lived out through his relationship with his “Uncle Fritz.” When Rolf found out that “Fritz” was actually his father Dr. Mengele, the man who had done some of the most intense and painful human studies using Jews, it was a tough decision of whether to turn him in to the authorities. Ultimately, Rolf did not turn his father in because of his relationship with “Uncle Fritz,” the real father figure in his life.

The Honest Nazi

There were millions of committed Nazi party members who lived in Austria and Germany between 1927-1947, and there would have been more if Hitler had allowed people to join in the mid 1930s. One man who got in early with the Nazi party and is still a practicing Nazi during the making of this book is Ernst Mochar, a member since 1927 (p. 179). The story of Ernst is rather unique compared to the rest of the stories in the book. Ernst was not involved with the concentration camps at all, and claims to have taken no part in the shipping or exterminating of Jews. He was merely a dedicated soldier fighting on the Eastern front against Russia (p. 181). His youngest daughter Ingeborg has to deal with his anti-Semitism every day they spend together and that proves to be a huge problem because of her marriage to a Jewish man (p. 180). Ingeborg reflects on her time in school with all the other kids’ and thinks that her dad was just the same as the father’s of everybody else, all the other kid’s dads were off at war like her dad. What was unknown to her was that she was at a boarding school with kids in the same situation she was in, growing up without a father because he was at war (p.183). Later in school, during a history class, she was taught the truth about Nazis and what they really stood for as far as race purity goes. When she came home from school to ask her dad about the new information, Ernst told her it was lies told to her by a Slovak teacher (p. 183). When Ingeborg was old enough to leave home she did so and started a fact-finding journey that led her to her current profession of psychotherapy (p. 179). Ingeborg would debate and lecture her father every time she came over to the house while her mother would beg her to stop because it is like talking on deaf ears, Ernst was set in his ways (p. 184). Was being related to a Nazi a disadvantage for Ingeborg? Though she did not answer the question directly, she clearly had many problems with her father because of his anti-Semitic beliefs that were clearly not going away anytime soon. At the end of the interviewing process, Posner and Ingeborg went to a service company that provides individuals with the background files of other people. They together went to look up Ernst Mochar to see if for all this time he had told the truth about not being involved with the Jewish extermination. Ingeborg was more scared in that moment than any other time in her life. The results, he told the truth and to Ingeborg he was not a war criminal, just a Nazi (p. 189). When asked if Ingeborg would have turned in her father if he were a war criminal, she said no. She loved her father very much and they had a great relationship and spent lots of time together. Her relationship was too good to turn in the father who was there for her even when things were not going well (p. 188).

Living with the Past

Like so many of the others interviewed, the pasts of their fathers prevents them from living a completely free life and nearly all those interviewed had a feeling of being boxed in to Germany because of what their fathers had done during the war. Some expressed interest in going to Israel like Niklas Frank (p. 215), but do not know how they will be accepted in a nation that their fathers tried to wipe out. Was being related to a Nazi a disadvantage for those interviewed? Yes. It meant the loss of their father as a father. The only person to consider it an advantage was Niklas Frank, and it was only because of the material wealth. The decisions to turn in their fathers as war criminals were determined by their relationship with their father, or in Mengele’s case their “Uncle.” All those interviewed have had more negative life experiences to deal with than those whose fathers were not involved with the Nazi efforts. Forever these people have to live with their parent’s history casting a shadow on everything they do, and coming out of that shadow has proven to be very difficult for those being represented in this book by Gerald Posner.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 6/19/07)


  • Books of the Times; Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Nazi Children Contend with their Legacy," New York Times; June 24, 1991. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9...
    This article talks about the inevitable mental and emotional suffering those children of former Nazis would go through as adults because of their parent’s involvement in the Nazi movement. The author also discusses the clear differences between children of Nazis innocent of war crimes and those hung for their crimes.
  • Kirkus Reviews, (google books)
    This review is a brief summary of some of the more exciting stories of children’s relationship with their Nazi fathers. Most notably the stories of Rudolf Hess and his son Wolf and Hans Frank’s sons’ difference of opinions of their father are covered in the review.

Related Books and Articles

  • Norbert Lebert and Stephan Lebert. My Father's Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders--An Intimate History of Damage and Denial. (Little, Brown, 2001). 256 pgs. (amazon page; Hist 133c reviews by: Katie Ritchie, Kayla Knoess)
    Same format as Posner’s book. The authors conducted several interviews with children of former Nazis including Hess, Mengele, and Himmler.
  • Peter Sichrovsky and Jean Steinberg . Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families. (Basic Books, 1988). 178 pages. (amazon page)
    Interviews conducted by the authors with children and grand children of former Nazis. No names or events are recorded as information is granted under anonymity.
  • Dan Bar-On (1989), Hist 133c review by Kelsey Figge

Related Links

(back to top)

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 6/12/07; last updated: 6/25/07
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