The Jewish Week is always here for you.
We need your support now.
Your contribution will help us bring you vital news
and frequent updates about the impact of COVID-19.
Tainted Names and New Jewish Identities

Tainted Names and New Jewish Identities

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

As I write that descendants of prominent Nazis have chosen to live in Israel today, and that some of them – with surnames like Goering, Goebbels or Himmler — are converted to Judaism or in process, I realize that readers will reread this sentence to make sure they didn’t misread.

A television documentary made in France in 2011 and recently shown in New York City for one night only, tells this true story. “Descendants of Nazis: An Infernal Heritage,” directed by Marie-Pierre Raimbault and Michael Grynszpan, was screened at B’nai Jeshurun on Yom HaShoah.

Most of the subjects, born after World War II, agreed to be interviewed for the film, which opens with golden views of the Negev. Matthias Goering is the first to speak. A grand-nephew of the second highest ranked figure under Hitler and one of Hitler’s closest associates, the younger Goering was born in 1956. Until he was 44, he had no interest in religion. His life changed with he had a mystical experience; he was astonished and began studying theology at a Christian school. He found he had too many questions with no answers, and then turned to Judaism, where he has found more questions and more answers.

About his name he says, “I don’t want to change it. It’s who I am. If I were to change it, I’d be telling myself I’m guilty.”

Goering often visits memorial sites in Europe, and he prays at the Kotel whenever he is in Israel. Often, he visits with survivors of the Shoah. He doesn’t feel responsible for what happened, but feels a responsibility to speak out. But, he says, these feelings are not connected to his moving toward the Torah – that’s a spiritual choice. In the film, a rabbi he has befriended, who lost his parents in the Shoah, assures him that a person doesn’t inherit the wrongdoings of his parents.

While the film’s narrative follows Goering, there are also interviews with other, including the grandson of Hitler’s half-brother, now a professor of Jewish philosophy at the University of Tel Aviv and married to an orthodox Jewish woman. The grand-daughter of Magda Goebbels, Colleen Rosenblatt converted to Judaism and still lives in Germany and is the mother of a Jewish daughter.

Myriam Abramowicz, a filmmaker who organizes the BJ Yom HaShoah program every year, first heard about the film from friends in Brussels two years ago. Her first thought when she heard of the content was, “Does HaShem have a sense of humor or what?”

She continues, “Given the plethora of Holocaust documentaries and works of fiction, to see Germans today who are actually grappling with the subject of the Shoah when others are running away from it, I felt it important to share it with our community.”

read more: