Documentary pays tribute to Moms anti-Nazi efforts

Though she is not Jewish, Paasche is comfortable in a community she risked her life to help save.

The fact that Paasche has been allowed to retire in that community is due to a special waiver granted by the Home. Normally, the Home requires its residents to be Jewish, but when Paasche applied to live there a year and a half ago, the Home made an exception.

Based on the application information collected by the Home, an extraordinary story emerged about Paasche's wartime activities.

Born in Berlin, she was one of seven children of Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, a general who served as chief of the German Army Command before Hitler came into power. Von Hammerstein-Equord was anti-Nazi and sought to subvert Hitler's regime. He retired within a year of Hitler coming into office, and continued to work in opposition efforts.

Paasche also took part in the resistance movement against the Nazis. Using information received from her father, she warned Jews who were slated for arrest.

In 1934, she married John Paasche, whose mother was Jewish. The two immigrated to Palestine where they lived for a year until illness and a typhoid epidemic forced them to return to Berlin. After being interrogated several times by the Gestapo in 1935, the couple fled to Japan.

Two of her brothers took part in an assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944. They evaded capture and went into hiding, but Maria Paasche's two youngest siblings and her mother were jailed in concentration camps, in retaliation, until they were liberated in 1945.

Today, her family is scattered across several continents, but one of Paasche's two daughters lives in San Francisco.

Once she settled into the Home, Paasche's story might also have retired there.

But her son Gottfried Paasche, a professor of sociology at York University in Canada, decided that telling his mother's history — a story he did not even fully know — would be the best way to pay tribute to her. He chose to do this by making a documentary film.

Gottfried Paasche knew that the Home, while accommodating for wheelchairs and nurses, might not be suitable for cameras and directors.

"I was very reluctant to expose my mother to this kind of attention," he said in an interview at the Home. "But if I concentrate on her interests and make her comfortable, it's all right."

As he was gathering information for the documentary, Paasche found "there was much I didn't know and am now discovering. It's not as if 20 years ago my mother was spelling it all out."

Vergilia Dakin, Paasche's daughter here, is also experiencing the details of her mother's story for the first time.

"I'm rediscovering my roots and finding out about her early life, which she never talked about that much," Dakin said.

Before undertaking the project, Gottfried Paasche contacted Dr. Yaacov Glickman, a friend and fellow sociologist teaching at the University of Toronto, for help in producing the film.

Glickman was attracted immediately to the story on both personal and professional levels, as a Jew and a researcher on international Jewish communities.

Yet he was nervous. "I was afraid this wasn't the right thing to do," he said. "Revisionists might misuse the story to say that Germans were not so bad.

"I said to my rabbi, `If I am to offend one survivor, I won't make the film.' He said not to worry, that the story would speak for itself. He said, and I quote, `There were such people [who helped the Jews] — that was a fact. But so was the fact that there were only too few.'"

Filming of the feature-length documentary, provisionally titled "The General's Daughter," has just begun.

With a director from Toronto, the group recently filmed Paasche at the Home, and interviewed staff and fellow residents. They then filmed Paasche at her daughter's Pacific Heights home. The crew hopes to travel to Germany, Israel and perhaps even Japan, where Paasche's children grew up, for filming.

Glickman expects that it will take two to four more years to complete the film — if further production costs can be supported. "The film has to trigger [fund-raising] support or it will halt," Glickman said.

Gottfried Paasche hopes the film will bring to light more information about the role women played in anti-Nazi activism.

"I felt the women in the family had been neglected [by history]," he said. "I want people to know about the involvement of women as part of the complexity of German history.

"If people did behave well, we ought to know that. I hope that the movie will make it easier for other people to learn more about what happened."