LOS ANGELES, June 29 (JTA) Monika Hertwig was 1 when her father was hanged as a war criminal in 1946. Amon Goeth, memorably portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List,” was the SS commandant of the Plaszow forced labor and concentration camp, who relaxed by shooting inmates from the balcony of his villa. Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, then 17, was picked among the prisoners as Goeth’s maid and was terrorized by him for two years. She survived, thanks to Oskar Schindler, and lives in the United States. Now, more than 60 years later, the two women are the unlikely protagonists of “Inheritance: A Legacy of Hatred and the Journey to Change It.” Their first meeting in the documentary is memorable. They stand, holding hands, in front of the Plaszow memorial stone, which recalls the brutality of one woman’s father and the suffering of the other. Later, they visit Goeth’s villa and Jonas-Rosenzweig, who is Jewish, demonstrates how she breathlessly rushed up the stairs, two steps at a time, to answer the call of her master, who regularly slapped her face for imaginary infractions. The women’s conversation is frequently interrupted by tears as they seek a measure of redemption and closure. The reign of Goeth, dubbed the “Emperor of Plaszow,” is recalled in old photos and film snippets. In 1946, he was condemned in Poland to death by hanging and a Polish cameraman filmed the event. Until she was 13, Hertwig believed that her father had died as a war hero and said she was devastated when she learned the truth. She previously traveled to Plaszow with a group of Israeli students and two survivors. “Inheritance” is the creation of James Moll, a longtime Spielberg associate and a founding director of the Shoah Foundation. He won a 1999 Oscar for “The Last Days,” a documentary about five Hungarian Holocaust survivors. Moll was producing additional material for the “Schindler’s List” DVD, he recalled in an interview, and needed permission to use some photos of Goeth. “I tracked down Monika, called her on the phone, and the first thing she said was ‘I am not like my father,’ ” said Moll, now president of Allentown Productions. “It struck me then that one side of the Holocaust that has never been explored was the impact on the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of the perpetrators.” Hertwig had been told by her mother about the Jewish maid in the Goeth household, and told Moll she would like to talk to her. Jonas-Rosenzweig was reluctant to meet the daughter of the man she had served, but eventually agreed. Hertwig, 60, is now educating German children, including her grandson David, about the Holocaust. “This is my work,” she says. “You can’t change the past, but maybe you can do something about the future.”
ADVERTISEMENT: Search 155+ Jewish summer camps to find your perfect fit, and you may be eligible for $1,000 off! Visit OneHappyCamper.org today!
Tom Tugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.