On Wednesday, a friend commented on Facebook that there was something wrong with his TV as he couldn’t find any football to watch. As expected, there followed a stream of comments from irate football haters and those who were longing for their next fix of the ‘beautiful game’. The thread went on to a ‘tongue in cheek’ debate as to whether or not there would be football in heaven and came to the ‘obvious’ conclusion that there would be mansions that were football free, as well as some with a constant game of ‘5 a side’ in the garden.
As someone who would happily watch almost any sport, I’m firmly in the football camp at the moment and yet last night I saw a programme that I found incredibly thought provoking. The programme was called ‘Hitler’s Children’ and it looked at the lives of five people who were closely related to leading Nazi war criminals. It did not focus on the terrible suffering of the camps but on the effect on the families of the war criminals, many of whom were not even born when the crimes were committed.
The programme lasts an hour and can be seen for the next few days via the BBC’s iplayer facility.
The content was not Christian as such but so many themes were brought out that I’ve found myself going over the issues of guilt, forgiveness, reconciliation and family relationships in my mind since seeing it.
Niklas Frank, the son of Hans Frank, the man responsible for countless deaths as the Nazi commander of Poland, has written of his own revulsion at his parents actions. He regularly visits schools to read extracts from his books. At one point he expresses a fear that the German people, given similar circumstances, an economic collapse, a fear of ethnic minorities, a rise of nationalism and a strong leader, would embark on another journey into the abyss of racial hatred and genocide. If we can learn anything from the last century, it is surely that no nation has a monopoly on evil or single race a propensity to hatred. It’s found in all races and nations. Given the same situation, I have no doubt that there would have been Welsh people prepared to deliver the atrocities.
The BBC website takes up the story of another of the contributors, Rainer Hoess.
“When he was a child Rainer Hoess was shown a family heirloom.
He remembers his mother lifting the heavy lid of the fireproof chest with a large swastika on the lid, revealing bundles of family photos.
They featured his father as a young child playing with his brothers and sisters, in the garden of their grand family home.
The photos show a pool with a slide and a sand pit – an idyllic family setting – but one that was separated from the gas chambers of Auschwitz by just a few yards.
His grandfather Rudolf Hoess (not to be confused with Nazi deputy leader Rudolf Hess), was the first commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp. His father grew up in a villa adjoining the camp, where he and his siblings played with toys built by prisoners.
Rainer is haunted by the garden gate he spotted in the photos that went straight into the camp – he calls it the “gate to hell”.
“It’s hard to explain the guilt,” says Rainer, “even though there is no reason I should bear any guilt, I still bear it. I carry the guilt with me in my mind.
“I’m ashamed too, of course, for what my family, my grandfather, did to thousands of other families.”
Some of the contributors speak of their own upbringing and the lack of any love and tenderness from their parents. It’s hardly surprising, how can a person ‘park’ such brutality outside the ‘garden gate’ and then be a loving father or mother to their children?
I wonder how many gates there are in our lives, places where we keep things to ourselves and keep God out. I wonder whether as a church we also have gates. Inside we are safe and have a good time but we can’t really think about those outside.
Lord be King over our lives, every part; family, work and everything else. Help us Lord to break down those gates.
For those outside the UK and may not be able to access iplayer, the programme is now available on YouTube