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Through previously undiscovered private letters, photos and diaries that were found in the Himmler family house in 1945, the 'The Decent One' exposes a unique and at times uncomfortable access to the life and mind of the merciless 'Architect of the Final Solution'
Chilling Account of the Domestic Life of the head of Hitler's SS
In 1945, shortly after Heinrich Himmler committed suicide, the US Army found a huge cache of his letters, papers and diaries at his house. Instead of handing them in to the appropriate authorities, they kept them; many of the papers subsequently found their way on to the international auction market.
Vanessa Lapa's documentary tells the story of Himmler's life through these letters and other documents exchanged between Himmler, his parents, his wife Marga and daughter Gudrun. Contrary to what other reviewers have observed about the title's so-called banality, the term THE DECENT ONE refers to a moment late on in the film, when Himmler discovers that the Nazi cause is about to collapse. He insists that he and many of his fellow-officers were decent in their behavior, as they were committed to the patriotic ideal of a greater Germany. We might interpret the term ironically, especially in light of our knowledge about Nazi atrocities, but in Himmler's view the Party always acted according to the noblest motives - for the greater good of the German (i.e. Aryan) people.
The documentary derives much of its power from the contrast between the sentiments exchanged in the letters - where Himmler expresses his love for his daughter and his concern for his family's welfare - and the images projected on screen, such as the burning of so-called "seditious" literature in Berlin in 1933, the regular parades of the SS in front of Hitler and Himmler, and the callous shooting of Nazi enemies in cold blood. We understand just how ruthless Himmler and his acolytes actually were, while at the same time realizing just how much their patriotism had corrupted them.
Despite the sentiments expressed in family letters, Himmler was in truth not really concerned about anyone except himself. He embarked on a well-publicized affair with one of his former staffers, by whim he had another child. But this did not stop him proclaiming his commitment to noble ideals such as the propagation of the Aryan race. He forced his family to take on an adopted child, Gerhard, who seldom got on with Gudrun and eventually joined the Nazi army at the earliest possible opportunity. Himmler did not really care; so long as he and his family could be seen to support the noble cause of Nazism, that was all that mattered.
In the end we are left with the sense that Nazism was actually an ideology that so blinded its supporters that they had no real sense of morality; they no longer understood the difference between right and wrong. They could claim quite innocently that they were kind and understanding towards their people, while at the same time embarking on a campaign to systematically exterminate Germany's Jewish population. Himmler's letters, as well as those written by his family, embody this (lack of) morality; to proclaim (as Marga did) that she "did not know" about the so-called "Final Solution" is no excuse.
This is the true horror of Lapa's documentary; it provides a lesson in the ways in which dictatorships erode human values, not only corrupting those at the apex of power, but the people willingly allowing themselves to be ruled in favor of a cause.
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