ASHKELON, Israel (AP) — Bettina Goering ran away from home at 13, lived on a promiscuous commune in India and later fled to the U.S. and had herself sterilized. It was all part of an attempt to escape the legacy of her last name.
Her great-uncle was the infamous Nazi leader Hermann Goering. Adolf Hitler’s second-in-command, he headed the vaunted Luftwaffe airforce and was a leading architect of the “Final Solution” to exterminate Europe’s Jews.
His grandniece’s odyssey to cleanse herself of the family’s tarnished past has brought her to Israel, where a documentary about her relationship with a child of Holocaust survivors is being featured at the Jewish Eye film festival in this southern Israeli city.
“Bloodlines” records Goering’s emotional encounters with Ruth Rich, an Australian artist whose brother was murdered by the Nazis and whose parents emerged broken from the Holocaust. The film has aired in Australia and will be screened next at the Boston Jewish Film Festival.
Goering, in an interview, said it was only thanks to her meetings with Rich, where she faced the pain of an angry victim, that she was finally able to break through from a guilt-ridden life.
“I looked into the darkest darkness and there is nothing left to fear. I finally released it,” she said. “It was the deepest kind of therapy you could do.”
The 52-year-old Goering, a doctor of oriental medicine, has struggled with her identity her entire life. Her father, Heinz, was adopted by his infamous uncle, after his own father died, and followed in his footsteps to become a fighter pilot for the Luftwaffe.
Heinz was shot down over the Soviet Union and returned from captivity in 1952 to find that his two brothers had killed themselves and the family’s fortunes were gone.
Hermann Goering was sentenced to death along with 11 others at the Nuremberg trials in 1946, but he committed suicide by swallowing a poison pill in his cell the night before his scheduled execution.
Goering said her father, who died in 1981, never spoke about the Holocaust, or about his notorious uncle.
But her grandmother was less evasive _ she adored him. As head of the Red Cross in Nazi Germany, she also hobnobbed with the regime’s other top leaders and had many pictures of herself alongside Hitler.
“We would be watching a documentary on TV together about the Holocaust and she would yell ‘it’s all lies, it didn’t happen,'” Goering recalled.
The young Goering, baffled at how the systematic killing of 6 million Jews had occurred, rebelled.
At 13, she ran away and cut ties with the family. She became a hippie and then a communist and traveled the world. But her teenage years were marked by drug abuse, and her twenties included three nervous breakdowns.
Her journey also took her to India where she become a disciple of Osho, the new-age guru best-known for promoting free love, before moving to the United States, where she still resides. There she married and changed her name. For this article, she asked to conceal it for fear of drawing attention, particularly from neo-Nazi sympathizers.
Still, she said she couldn’t shake the ghost of her great-uncle. It was there every time she looked in the mirror.
“The eyes, the cheekbones, the profile,” she said. “I look just like him. I look more like him than his own daughter.”
The most drastic step she took was to have her fallopian tubes tied at age 30. She said she feared she would create another monster. “It’s my bloodline and I didn’t want to continue it,” she said. “I didn’t want any more Goerings.”
Her only brother independently decided to have a vasectomy. She is now close with him, but disconnected from the rest of the family. “It’s all a part of this guilt,” she said.
Through a common friend, she was introduced a couple of years ago to Rich, who was struggling with her own story of victimized parents and the ghost of a brother she never knew. Rich went through years of intensive therapy and escaped to art, where she painted dark troubling images of the demons lurking inside her.
Together, the two women began to heal.
In their first meetings, Rich said she felt contempt for Goering. “It was very intense and I definitely projected this on Bettina,” she said. But ultimately, she said, they have formed a “great sisterhood.”
Goering credited Rich for letting her finally shed a burden. The newfound inner peace gave Goering enough confidence to come to Israel for the first time.
At a screening this week, she faced tough questions from survivors at the film festival. Later, in a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, she watched the famous footage of Hermann Goering from the Nuremberg trials with less pain than ever before.
“The hardest part is admitting that I could have liked him. I was so shocked by that,” she said. “Now I am accepting myself more for who I am, whatever that encompasses _ the good, the bad and the ugly.”
On the Net: http://www.bloodlinesfilm.com/
© 2008 The Associated Press