By Rose Finlay
With photographs, journals, personal letters and documents The Decent One attempts to examine the motivations and thought-processes of Heinrich Himmler, the man who orchestrated the Holocaust, as well as about his own family. The filmmakers attempt to sketch out a biography of Himmler’s life starting from letters announcing his birth and continuing on through the various love letters to his wife and correspondence with his family.
While certainly a fascinating exploration of Himmler’s personal life, it is just another example the futile quest to answer the question of how anyone could orchestrate the mass murder of millions of people. The answer was certainly not discovered within the 94 minutes of this film and generations of psychologists will tell you it is not something so easily quantified.
Interestingly, the film humanizes Himmler while also progressively dropping stronger and stronger hints of the atrocities he his committing in his professional capacity. Initially he is a man adrift in the world, but then he finds a job, falls in love with his wife, has a daughter and then an affair with his secretary. This could be the story of any man then and now. However, as the film progresses the hints of anti-Semitism and conservative values grow, eventually leading to casual references to him visiting concentration camps. The final minutes of the film are incredibly gruesome clips of public executions and the tangle of human limbs that are certainly not for the faint of heart.
In the end, the audience is left with the cold fact that one can be an upstanding member of society and a family man while still committing such atrocities as the Holocaust. The question is always asked “How could anyone do that?” The result is that his monstrous traits are just the reflection of his seemingly good ones. His nationalistic pride, his conservatism, his belief in protecting those he loved are the very things that allowed him to have no problems with killing millions. There is no quantifying the capability of humans to do horrific acts and The Decent One doesn’t change this fact.
Q & A
The documents used in this film were discovered in 1945 by US troops who occupied Himmler’s family home. Despite being told to hand over the documents to the government, they disappeared for years and reappeared in a Tel Aviv archive. Some say that a man kept it under his bed for forty years. Now they are held in a safety deposit box.
The film uses the childhood diaries of Himmler’s daughter, Gudrun Burwitz (née Himmler). The filmmakers have contacted legal counsel in order to be certain they are legally allowed to use it, although, when contacted, Gudrun Burwitz declined to work with the film.
Gudrun Burwitz has remained active in the Nazi community for years and has been a member of Stille Hilfe (Silent Aid), an organization which provides assistance to arrested, condemned and fugitive SS members, since 1951.