The sins of my father

Martin Bormann Sr was one of the biggest criminals of the Third Reich. His son is still living with the legacy.

The little town of Herdecke is not the kind of place in which you would expect to find a missing piece from a historical jigsaw. A small, modern industrial town on the banks of the Ruhr, it is busy with housewives shopping and trucks rumbling towards nearby warehouses.

But on a hillside thick with silver birch trees, on the edge of town, there lives, unnoticed by the rest of the population, a pleasant, elderly man whose memories and traumas seem to come from a different universe.

In a conference room in the modern hotel in the centre of town, Martin Bormann Jr has his head in his hands. The son of Hitler's most trusted lieutenant has just been asked how he felt on the day in 1946 that he heard, on the radio, that his father had been sentenced to death in absentia at the Nuremberg trial.

The silence lasts a minute. "Shocked and confused," he says, slowly, eventually. "I was completely destroyed. I felt so small." He looks despairing.

Martin Bormann is a handsome man, tall and upright for his 69 years, wearing a blue poloneck and sports jacket, his white hair swept back. He looks like a country squire, a retired racehorse breeder, or a landowner. When he swept in to the hotel lobby to greet me he seemed confident and relaxed.

But quickly, as he speaks of the past in the upstairs conference room with its fake wood and Athena prints, his voice starts to falter. His eyes search the room.

For this gentleman's father, also Martin Bormann, was one of the biggest criminals of the Third Reich, a fiercely ambitious and brutal man who became Hitler's private secretary and leader of the Nazi party, taking over many of the Fuhrer's daily duties during the war.

Martin Jr was born in 1930. Too young to have participated in the Nazi era, he was nevertheless old enough to remember it quite clearly.

He can certainly remember hearing the Nuremberg trials over the radio, from the farm where he was hidden after the Third Reich collapsed. The man described in the dock "was not the father I knew", he says, with some difficulty. "But it was there, every day, in all the newspapers, all the evidence of the concentration camps. Documents with his signature on them." He looks up. "That signature I knew so well." He switches from his distinguished, old-fashioned High German to softly accented English. "I cannot deny what my father did. I cannot." He looks pained. "I cannot stop thinking about my father," he says, with a sad smile.

Until he was 15, he loved his father as any child should. Martin Bormann Sr was, by all accounts, a good family man, dutifully visiting his wife and nine children from wherever he was based, taking pains to ensure their schooling and home life was correct. When he was 10, young Martin was sent to the elite Nazi Party Academy in Bavaria ("to make me a good German," he smiles), where he stayed for five years until the Third Reich started collapsing.

"We only saw him three or four times a year during the war, but he was a good father," he says, with a mixture of wistfulness and disbelief. "He wanted to make his own family because he had nothing as a child," Mr Bormann says. "He was strict, but he had a very big heart."

Though he will talk at length, like an academic, about the objective cruelties of the Third Reich, it is more difficult for him to describe his own feelings. He tells me of a postcard he received while he was a 14-year-old at the elite Nazi Party Academy in Bavaria. "It was addressed `to my dearest, darling child' and asked, `I would like to come and see you next weekend, the 14th. Would you be able to see me then? With all my love, father.'"

Martin Bormann has quite a different perspective to that of another child of the Nazi regime. Gudrun Burwitz is the daughter of Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the Final Solution. An unreconstructed Nazi, she is in the news in Germany at the moment, and has been ever since she was revealed to be helping a former Nazi concentration camp commandant fight extradition to be tried for war crimes in the Czech Republic.

A German-Jewish investigative journalist, Peter Finkelgrun, found that Burwitz who, like Bormann, is 69, was advising and helping the man whom he believes kicked to death his father and numerous other inmates of the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. Himmler's daughter is the head of a charity, Stille Hilfe (Silent Help) which aids ex-Nazis.

"Gudrun Burwitz has created a golden image of her father and she will do anything to keep that," says someone who knows her. Ironically, Himmler was known to be a poor father, a violent and unfaithful man who neglected his children, so the image Ms Burwitz is trying to create may well be of the father she wishes she had.

Nobody will ever know. Himmler's child will take her thoughts and her secrets to her grave. She doesn't give any interviews and Stille Hilfe remains an organisation that is steeped in secrecy.

Mr Bormann, on the other hand, is brutally honest. The difference is that he's confronted the truth about his father. When asked if the Nuremberg death sentence on his father was correct, he says, slowly but firmly, "Yes, I believe it was."

To start with, the young Martin Bormann ran away. When Allied forces started closing in on the Nazi Party Academy on the Starnbergersee in Bavaria where he was at school, the 15-year-old joined his family at home. His mother and younger siblings moved south into Austria, but Martin had to stay in Germany because he was sick with food poisoning and too ill to travel. He was looked after by family friends.

Martin Bormann Sr died near Hitler's bunker in 1945, but his death was only proven definitively last year, when Martin Jr provided blood for a DNA test on his remains. "It was very difficult, not knowing for sure for all those years," he says.

After the war, helped in his conversion by the pious farmers who were sheltering him, he started studying to become a monk. Mr Bormann spent six years as a missionary in Congo, and then, after retiring from the priesthood and getting married, worked as a lecturer in religious studies at a university in central Germany.

Now retired, Mr Bormann spends his time voluntarily touring schools in Germany and Austria telling children about the dangers of Naziism. He visited 157 schools last year, driven by some undefined torment. He is also a frequent visitor to Israel, talking to cultural exchange groups about his pet subject, the language and propaganda of Nazism. He has no children, though his wife, also a former missionary, has suffered three miscarriages.

Has he never considered changing his name? "No, because nobody can choose his parents. And nobody can deny his parents. We are forever linked to them with an unbreakable bond."

His memories of the 1930s are becoming hazy now, he says, distorted by what he has learned since then. He remembers Adolf Hitler coming to his family's house at Christmas, in 1939, and presenting him with a set of toy soldiers and a toy gun. "I was nine," says Mr Bormann, with a rare smile. "I shot the soldiers with pencils from the gun. They soon became war casualties." Hitler was aloof and removed, he says, and his parents became subservient and scared in his presence.

On another occasion, the eight-year-old Martin was presented to the Fuhrer. "Heil Hitler, mein Fuhrer!" the little boy proclaimed, only to receive a hard slap from his father. "I'd forgotten that to greet the Fuhrer you had to say Heil, not Heil Hitler." The dictator himself remained impassive throughout. His family home was next to Hitler's within the Fuhrer's Bertchesgarten compound, and he remembers "a big fuss" one day when he was seven. Neville Chamberlain was visiting Adolf Hitler.

Does he feel guilty about his father? "No. The sins of the parents are not visited on their children," he says firmly. Even if he's not guilty, though, he's certainly haunted. As he leaves the hotel car park, he says, "Goodbye. And peace. Peace to all of us." A last, sad smile and then he climbs into his Subaru and drives off past the trolleypark of the Aldi supermarket.

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album