Willful Blindness

Late last night on Austrian television: the 2005 film
“2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß” (Der Freitag review, de), distributed in English-speaking countries as “2 or 3 Things I Know About Him” (NYT review, en) by Malte Ludin.
The film was originally planned as a documentary on the search for information about Ludin’s father, Hanns Ludin, a high-level Nazi known as “the Butcher of Slovakia”, convicted and executed in 1947. It evolved into something much more complicated and interesting, however, as he collected interviews from his three sisters and their families. Ludin waited until his mother died before commencing work, so as not to cause her stress — however by that time two of his oldest siblings had also passed away. Fortunately he had conducted and filmed interviews with his mother years before, and was able to integrate that footage into the film.
The end result is a study in how these family members remain willfully ignorant of — and resistant to — any damning information about their father, out of the sheer need for their childhood memories to remain unstained. Even as their own children acknowledge the facts and speak openly (although not in their mothers’ presence) about growing up in a so-called Täter-familie, Ludin’s sisters cling stubbornly to their beliefs that Papa was just as much a victim — a resistance fighter, even! — and that no one knew where those “deportations” were leading to. (One might accept that from other, less prominent contemporaries, but not from Ludin, who palled around with Hess and Goebbels, and knew full well what he was doing and where he was sending people.)

The film walks a fine line between airing an unpleasant family history and allowing the surviving children (all around 70 in the film) to whatever dignity they required in order to participate in the film (the James Nichols interview in Michael Moore’s “Bowling For Columbine” comes to mind). He does not try to humiliate them, although the viewer soon feels that they need no help from him there. Ludin’s film captures it all; the excuses, the fidgety discomfort, the earnest denial, the white-washing exposed for what it is by archival documents. More films like this, please.

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