Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Meet the Hitlers

I finally got the opportunity to watch the 2014 documentary, Meet the Hitlers. The film  examines the relationship between name and identity without much commentary. 

The director, Matthew Ogens, introduces the viewer to a variety of real life characters including several individuals with the name 'Hitler.' There is a man named Romano-Lukas Hitler, a European of some ilk who believes himself to be a relative of the Nazi leader. There is also an elderly gentleman, Gene Hitler, an American with no known connection to the infamous Adolph Hitler. One subject is a teenage girl who has the surname Hittler who explains that her peers do not react to the name quite the same way as grown-ups do. There is also the white supremacists from New Jersey who several years ago made the news for naming their son Adolph Hitler. Another subject is a name born in Ecuador named Hitler Gutierrez. Then there are those subjects who do not bear the name Hitler themselves but explore the image, identity, and ancestry of the Adolph Hitler. Their stories allow you to draw your own conclusions about name and identity.

Writer, David Gardner, is in pursuit of last known descendants of Adolph Hitler's half-brother. Gardner wrote the 2001 book, The Last of the Hitlers: The story of Adolf Hitler's British nephew and the amazing pact to make sure his genes die out. That British half-brother's child moved to America and settled in a town on Long Island called Patchogue; the same town some of my relatives settled in. This may not be surprising but the Hitlers changed their surname. The author protects the family's anonymity. My Patchogue relatives also changed their name. They changed it from Desjardins to Gardner; no known relation to the author introduced here though.

It is fascinating to see how each subject reacts to and connects with the name Hitler and how having such an infamous name affects them. It documents a wide variety of human responses; there are those who find it humorous, those who shrug it off as a mere coincidence of no consequence and take great pride in their ancestry, some subjects have a horrific admiration for the Nazi leader, and then others have buried their genetic relationship to infamous Hitler.

Two things struck me. One was when the director asked Gene Hitler why it was important to him to keep his name. why didn't he change it. Gene gave it some thought and said his name was important to him because his parents gave it to him.

The other moving moment for me was the ending. David Gardner, unable to interview the Hitlers of Patchoque, decided to interview a Holocaust survivor residing in Patchogue. At one point the author asks the man how he would feel knowing that descendants of Adolph Hitler live near him. The kindly Jewish man shrugs a bit and says that he does not hold the author responsible for the acts of his ancestors; these Hitlers of Patchogue are not responsible for the horrors their ancestor committed.

That is kind of the message I try to put across in this blog. 

I am the great granddaughter of a schizophrenic, a great-great granddaughter of a man who committed a murder-suicide, one of my 5th great grandfathers was a Colonel at the Battle of Saratoga which was the turning point of the American Revolution, and I'm a descendant of Charlemagne (supposedly, I can't document it just yet but aren't we all descendants of Charlemagne? We each have something like 131,072 15th great-grandparents.). 

Although I believe you should take pride in your existence and owe some reverence to those who came before you, I also do not think the sins of the father are the sins of the son. If you ask me, which I acknowledge you did not, those who wear their surname like a badge of honor ought to do something on their own to be proud of. Those people who came before you, those whose DNA you carry within your own cells, they were just people. Good. Bad. Ugly. And Beautiful. 

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