Book Review: My Father’s Keeper by Norbert Lebert

My Father’s Keeper (2001) is the story of the children of upper echelon Nazis, the sons and daughters of Himmler, Hess, Goering, and others. German journalists Stephan Lebert and his son Norbert conducted their interviews in 1959 and 2000, respectively.

The subjects’ coping mechanisms were largely unsuccessful. The most strategically useful approach (I won’t call it ‘successful’) was perhaps that of Martin Bormann, Jr.

Bormann, Jr., retreated into the priesthood. [Note: There’s an afterword in My Father’s Keeper directing readers to Bormann, Jr’s. autobiography, Living Against the Shadow.]

The least useful mechanism? Denial. Gudrun Himmler maintained her father’s surname and her belief in his innocence, believe it or not, thus becoming virtually unemployable. She, more than the others, has become a target for hatred, much of it brought upon her by her coping method. (She persists in keeping both her family name and connections to former (?) National Socialists, who, I presume, sit around and mourn the loss of the Gemutlichkrieg of bygone days.) She is not popular, even with those who share her background.

Although psychologists are quoted in Lebert’s book, there’s little exploration of the psychology itself. We are looking at adults who, in childhood, lost their fathers either by execution, imprisonment, or premature death. The sentences were logical and justified, but no child can be left unmarked by the loss of a parent, let alone loss by judicial decree. Their situation is not unlike that of adult children of alcoholics: having an absent father responsible for his own downfall. Such children, depending on their age, are more or less severely damaged. The part played by actual drugs and alcohol in all of this should not be ignored.

Add to that the shame of being the progeny of Nazi murderers. Yes, they can tell themselves, “It was not I who did those horrendous things.” But only a sociopath would find that fully effective, and we are now well into the territory of the Unconscious and the enduring Paternal Archetype. The Unconscious has a logic all to itself and was the source of Hitler’s illogical, hatred-based evil. (Adolf was raised by a violent, sadistic alcoholic who at least once beat the boy into unconsciousness, according to eyewitness Alois Hitler, Jr., quoted by his son, Patrick Hitler.)]

On top of that, as if we need anything more, these children were maltreated by Allied interrogators and later by schools, teachers, children, and often by anyone else who found out who they were.

Also missing is any discussion of the mechanism of denial. It is an autonomic process, another product of the Unconscious, which protects us from things that are too much for us. The optic and aural nerves do not terminate in the forebrain; they go first to the cerebellum, seat of the Guardienne. That is where memories are accessed (or blocked), too. See In the Mouth of the Lion’s Appendix C for more information on the Guardienne.

I normally would include a few pithy quotes from the work, but I’ll let readers find them instead. There are many passages therein that epitomize the lives of these men and women and their fathers. My Father’s Keeper, at 243 pages, is a fast read, compelling and well-written. I read it in two sessions.

This entry was posted in book review, history, In the Mouth of the Lion, the human condition and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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