Being that I am of Sri Lankan origin, my birth name is much longer than those in the west are used to. Most people just end up pronouncing it incorrectly, or automatically shortening it. Instead I use a much shorter name in my day to day life, so that confusion can be kept to a minimum.
I bring this up, not for sympathy, but in order to illustrate that I have some understanding of how a strange name can make it difficult to fit into mainstream society.
But compared to the name “Hitler,” perhaps my troubles were rather minimal?
Released in 2014, Meet the Hitlers is (as you might have guessed) a documentary about people whose first or last name is Hitler. The large majority though have no relation to the infamous dictator.
The diversity is immense, ranging from the American teenager, Emily Hittler (with two t’s); the white supremacist family who named their son Adolf Hitler Campbell; to the hard working Ecuadorian construction worker, Hitler Gutierrez.
All of them cursed to have the same name as the most hated man of the 20th century; the documentary shows us the trials and tribulations they must suffer as they try to lead as normal lives as possible.
Brought to life by director Matthew Ogens (Confessions of a Superhero), Meet the Hitlers dives straight into exploring how much a person’s life can be influenced or impacted by the merest of connections to a person long departed.
For some, such as 16 year old Emily, it’s nothing more than an afterthought. “It’s sooo Hittler!” a friend exclaims as they try on dresses. Such goodnatured mocking admirably shows us just how strong Emily is, refusing to let her existence be defined by a man she has never known.
But on the other hand, you have people at the far edges of the spectrum, like Hitler Gutierrez or Heath Campbell. In the case of Gutierrez, he’s an Ecuadorian who moved to America for work, and has struggled with his name in the new world. While his troubles are to be somewhat expected, it’s still quite the surprise to hear that Gutierrez was named by his father purely under the desire to give him a name that was unique!
And at the other end of the spectrum, you have the man who embraces the infamous moniker. Heath Campbell, a straight up white supremacist (who changed his name to Heath Hitler in May 2017), names his son Adolf Hitler (and a daughter JoyceLynn Aryan Nation.) While an immensely unlikable character, he does raise the interesting question as to whether or not freedom of expression trumps society’s hatred of a name.
But in the midst of these stories, there are threads that seem added in for no reason other than an obscure connection to Nazism. For example, the film includes a man who makes professional Hitler memorabilia for fun. A unique profession, yes; but ultimately one that’s not needed in this film. As such, it becomes increasing clear that, as fascinating as this overall topic might be, there just isn’t enough to fill a ninety minute movie.
That said, amongst the many subjects, the standout is undoubtedly Romano Hitler, a German citizen who believes he is the last living relative of Adolf Hitler. Abandoned in an orphanage when he was young, Romano has no idea where he came from or why he was abandoned. Add to that the fact that he never married or had children, Romano emerges as one of the more lonely subjects of the documentary. With no other relatives, Romano clings almost desperately to the only man he has a connection to, even if said man happens to be the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century.
Apart from the surprise of just how many people are named after the long dead leader of the Nazis, Meet the Hitlers doesn’t exactly reveal some deeply secret lifestyle that the world might be unaware of. Of course, someone with the name Hitler gets treated in a lesser fashion that the average person might want.
While this treatment is obviously unfair, it does reveal the strength of some of these individuals. If anything, it is quite the inspiration to see so many people refuse to kowtow to the closed-mindedness of those around them.