The Commandant’s Shadow Review: A Glimpse into Darkness and Light

Facing the Past, Moving Towards Hope

It’s a moving encounter when 87-year-old Hans Jurgen Hoss meets 98-year-old Auschwitz survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch. Their families were once neighbors in the most tragic sense, yet here they sit together peacefully, enjoying coffee and pie. We’ve come to understand each individual’s perspective through intimate portraits in The Commandant’s Shadow.

Director Daniela Volkler introduces us to Hans, the son of notorious Nazi commandant Rudolf Höss. Despite living yards from the camp as a child, Hans claims ignorance of atrocities. His son Kai believes this is a denial. Anita, too, survived only through her talents as a musician. Her daughter, Maya, feels the impacts of a trauma kept silent.

While Hans struggles with history, Anita recounts her ordeal matter-of-factly. But it’s through Maya that we see how inherited grief shapes future lives. As an addiction specialist, she finds healing through reconnecting with the family story. Guided by faith, Kai confronts the “sins of the fathers” so the next generation may live freely.

Their visit to Auschwitz brings a powerful reckoning. Confronting the “other side of the wall,”  Hans now knows the truth his mind rejected for decades. Through intimate scenes of reflection, we journey with these souls as each processes the past in their own way. Volkler’s film is a moving look at irreparable impacts, the difficult work of grieving, and the hope that comes through confronting even the darkest parts of our shared human experience.

Confronting the Legacies

Hans Jürgen Höss grew up in blissful ignorance next to Auschwitz, believing it merely a prison. Now 87, he claims to know little of the camp’s horrors. Yet his son Kai sees only denial in Hans’ inability to reconcile fond memories of “father” with the mass murderer’s facts.

As a preacher, Kai carries the weight of paternal sins. Never meeting his infamous grandfather, he grasps Rudolph Höss’s legacy and shoulders the duty to confront denial’s destructive patterns.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch recounts her ordeal matter-of-factly, spared through her musical talents. Yet, after passing trauma to her daughter Maya through decades of silence, the wounds persist into the next generation.

Maya embraced psychotherapy to remedy the shapeless ache from her mother’s forced separation. Seeking relief, her actions, like exploring ancestral history in Berlin, bring new healing.

Hans’s sister Puppi dismisses culpability while denying defilement of their mother’s gravesite. Other relatives play marginal roles, with most struggling to reconcile the “father” side of Rudolf Höss with his monstrous acts.

Facing dark histories proves an ongoing process. The film portrays legacies as multi-faceted, with each finding a means of encounter befitting their own journey. In its intimate character studies, a greater understanding of transgenerational impacts takes shape.

Wrestling with Legacies

The film provides a nuanced look at how its subjects grapple with the past in profoundly personal yet profoundly different ways. Hans clings to fond childhood memories, struggling to integrate them with his father’s monstrous acts. Anita remains reticent about experiences better left behind, while Kai and Maya actively seek understanding.

The Commandant's Shadow Review

Director Volker creates intimacy by paralleling their journeys. We see denial’s consequences in Hans and Puppi’s downplaying. Yet for Kai, facing the truth opens a path towards making amends through his faith. Interpreting scripture inspires him to confront hard truths and teach others.

Some find solace in alternative contexts. Anita redirects discussion elsewhere while Maya travels to Berlin, absorbing ancestral contexts her mother was denied. Each respects the methods of others, even if their own call them towards darker depths. Their trip to the camps shows history demanding acknowledgement on its own terms.

Höss’s memoir and testimony confront Hans with facts incompatible with his recollections. Elsewhere, Anita’s calm demeanor cracks at her daughter’s readings, affirming trauma’s endurance. Their exchange underscores forgiveness as the only way forward, even if reconciliation remains impossible.

Volker handles her subjects’ vulnerabilities with care. We root for them to find equitable peace, whether through faith, family, or simple acts of understanding. Their shared wish that such horrors “never happen again” lingers sadly, a reminder that confronting the past remains our best hope for the future.

Facing the Past, Confronting the Future

There’s consensus that humanity has yet to truly learn from history. Though generations have passed, antisemitism endures, as Hans and Anita attest. Their testimonies carry weight from living through Nazism’s horrors.

Kai and Maya experience scars passed down, wrestling with impacts on their lives. Kai’s faith inspires addressing the sins of the past. His call to learn from mistakes echoes Anita’s warning that hatred survives. Their words resound with today’s rising extremism.

Silence shielded some from trauma, yet it also denied later generations context. Maya yearns for connections severed. Visiting where her mother survived opens wounds but begins healing. Her pilgrimage shows that confronting the past empowers stewarding its lessons.

A meeting in that place holds significance. Anita affords Hans a gesture others find difficult—forgiveness—to move forward. Their exchange, though laden, demonstrates overcoming divides through understanding. Peace demands recognizing shared humanity above all else.

Revisiting Auschwitz forces Hans to acknowledge his father as history sees him. Fantasy and reality clash in that place that was home, yet Anita’s home offers solace through community. Their alliance, however fragile, gives hope where once there was only hopelessness.

Darkness endured because of indifference, so each new candle of conscience matters. By walking this path together, these survivors and descendants take a stand against tyranny and rebirth through remembrance and point the way for all seeking light.

Facing the Darkness, Embracing the Light

This film prompts much reflection on shadows from our past. Hans, Maya, Kai, and Anita share the deeply felt impacts of the trauma handed down. Their journeys honor those who perished while bravely addressing the scars that linger.

We witness the immeasurable difficulty of confronting legacies. Silence offered protection yet also passed pain between generations. By speaking their truths, these individuals take a step towards healing and preventing history from repeating.

Though confrontations prove stirring, Anita’s forgiveness offers hope. Her strength in overcoming divisions models a path forward. If even the daughter of Auschwitz’s commandant merits sympathy, perhaps there is hope for understanding where now there is only intolerance.

This sobering film shines light on our shared duty to remember. Only by facing darkness can we see clearly and stand against hatred wherever it hides. The film’s subjects light a candle through their courage. May their message of seeking common ground over differences inspire us all.

Quiet, Powerful Authenticity

This film achieves something quite special through its intimate and authentic lens. We see four individuals grappling with darkness in their own way, each truth ringing genuine. Director Völker lets subjects’ varied perspectives unfold without assertive third-party shaping, granting viewers space for independent insights alongside her protagonists.

The vérité approach draws us close to conflicting realities, from Hans’ surface pleasantries bluntly challenged by his son Kai to Maya’s raw emotional excavations. Quiet conversations between survivor Anita and perpetrator’s child Hans affect deeply precisely because so little is said yet volumes expressed. Even Rudolf Höss’ chilling memoir passages chill not through dramatic rendering but matter-of-fact delivery, bansality of description matching horror of acts.

By the film’s end, when final images linger of a desert walk carrying legacies forward and back, no commentary intervenes. The choice trusts viewers to feel the significance of setting and symbols for ourselves, as movingly minimalist as Anita’s ultimate gesture of reconciliation over coffee and pie. In letting experiences speak through actions and eyes rather than words alone, this film achieves striking authentic power through understated means. Its courage to face darkness quietly honors all who brave similar journeys of truth.

The Review

The Commandant's Shadow

9 Score

The Commandant's Shadow tells an imperative story with compassion and care. It grapples earnestly with life's most painful realities through humanizing vulnerable subjects. Director Volker gently guides complex conversations about truth and healing.


  • Authentic portrayal of real individuals and conflicts
  • Sensitive treatment of heavy historical realities
  • Intimate filming style that feels personal yet not exploitative
  • Provides perspectives from both victims and perpetrators.
  • Inspires thoughtful reflection on intergenerational trauma.
  • Offers a message of hope through forgiveness and understanding.


  • Difficult subject matter may not appeal to all audiences.
  • Some scenes feel emotionally heavy without relief.
  • Fails to provide a broader historical context at times.

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 9
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