Meet the Hitlers [Celluloid Hero]
Meet the Hitlers (2014)
This documentary follows a number of people with the name Hitler. Each represent a different demographic - 80something year old man, 16 year old girl, Ecuadorian immigrant, German loner, dirtbag neo-Nazi, and the actual descendants of Adolf Hitler. It's fascinating to see how the name has had an impact on all of them, and how the name will continue to play a role in the direction of their lives.
Gene Hitler is a kindly old man living in Pennsylvania. His ancestors moved to America in 1799, and lived in the German areas of western PA and Ohio. He was 11 when World War 2 began. He has no connection to Adolf Hitler, but obviously growing up at that time was extremely difficult. He was able to meet a girl, marry her, and convince her to take his name. They had four daughters, and each one has since been married and renamed. The Hitler name, at least on this branch of the family tree, is dying.
Emily Hittler is a 16 year old girl in high school. The slight variation of spelling doesn't change the pronunciation, so she still gets questioned by teachers every year. Her generation has an inexplicable attitude towards the name. One moment she's talking about how embarrassing it is when someone asks if she's ever killed a Jew, the next moment she's laughing about how someone drew a swastika when they signed her yearbook. Her friends love to write "Hittler Rocks!" on notes for her, rather than just call her Emily. It gives the impression that the stigma with the name is lessening, but doesn't make the distinction of that being good or bad.
Hitler Gutierrez is an Ecuadorian immigrant. His parents gave him the name "because it was different", apparently unaware of the connotations. I get that world events might not travel to certain parts of the globe (if there was a genocide in Ecuador, I've never heard of it, but it would be a major part of their culture and history), so maybe this family didn't know who Hitler was outside of hearing the name once, but I find it hard to believe. Having "Hitler" as your first name seems to be an easier fix, but he still feels it would be disrespectful to his parents, so it's stuck with him.
One of the weirdest interviewees is Romano Hitler. He's an older man, living in Germany. He works as a deckhand on a boat, has no home, has no friends or family. He had a traumatic childhood (his parents dumped him in an orphanage) and the damage is very evident. He insists he is the nephew of Adolf, but historians have found no true connection. He actually seems to want to be a relative, he considers it a claim to fame, or at least infamy.
We reach the neo-Nazi scum. It's a familiar story because it happened here in Jersey - a couple wanted to get a birthday cake for their son, and Shop Rite refused to write "Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler" on the cake. DYFS was called, and the children were taken away. It created an interesting argument, because I do agree that we have the freedom to name our children what we want, but with that freedom comes the responsibility to not name them "Hitler" or "Shithead" or "Asshole". A child's name might not exactly put them in danger, but as shown by all the other people in this documentary, it's going to cause problems their entire life.
The documentary is also fleshed out by a journalist who has actually tracked down real living relatives of Adolf Hitler. Adolf's brother Alois had a son, William. William actually served in the US Navy during WW2, and had four sons. Those four sons lived in America with different names, making a vow to their mother and each other to not reveal who they were, and also to not have children. It was amazing that out of everyone, I felt the most sympathy for the people who actually were closest in relation. These four brothers gave up having families, just to ensure that Adolf Hitler's bloodline would disappear.
The reactions that strangers have towards all the Hitlers is what makes this interesting. Some people are immediately taken aback, some crack vaguely offensive jokes, some crack blatantly offensive jokes, some just let it slide. As a person who goes by their last name most of the time, I wonder what would happen if "Joe Varacchi" rose to power as a dictator in some country and slaughtered millions. Would I change my name to avoid association? Or would I stand my ground, arguing that it's just a name, I'm not part of his group, I am who I am and will stay who I am.
On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "Meet the Hitlers" gets a 7 out of 10.