Swiss documentary filmmaker and author Alex Mayenfisch signs and illustrates “Three Secrets, Three Wars, One Father”, a captivating story that lifts the veil on the mysteries of his own family.
On the public side, Alex Mayenfisch’s life is making documentaries at the heart of Swiss society. On the private side, it’s a leaden screed and the discovery of a family secret, now documented in the book Three Secrets, Three Wars, One Papa. A story that he accompanies with his own drawings.
Alex Mayenfisch was born in Lausanne in 1954. He lived a rough childhood with his father and mother often absent. A failed punishment and a fall from the balcony into the void, going to school in the afternoon and marching in step with the cadets, those militarized scouts, a photo shoot in mini paratrooper uniform, the memories that the author unfolds in his work are not the happiest. Alex Mayenfisch lost his father when he was eleven and his mother died seven years later.
Over time, I understand that just because the Grim Reaper took your loved ones away doesn’t mean they’re gone from your life. I don’t know yet, but I will have the opportunity to experience it beyond imaginable…
A Nazi sympathetic father
As an autodidact and committed filmmaker, supporter of social issues, militant in club circles, the native of Lausanne continues his journey. “When you’re an orphan at 18, you have to think about the future. I’ve never asked myself too many questions about my family’s past,” Alex Mayenfisch told RTS.
But one day he learns of the existence of a half brother, then a second. Then he discovers a kind of diary written by his father, which speaks of his youth, his arrest and going to evenings attended by Nazi sympathizers. One photo in particular annoys Alex Mayenfisch: that of his father in a Waffen SS uniform. “It’s very hard. The Waffen-SS are the bad guys, we’re there in the symbol, the director delivers. My father was tried by the military judiciary who admitted his version of the facts: he was forced into military service would not have been the first, there were thousands in his case. But this story had some flawed aspects, so I investigated.”
Twenty years of research
The research lasted twenty years and today results in a book that can serve as a catharsis. “They made fun of me. Under the appearance of a middle-class and respectable family, we hid things. And when we realize it, we feel betrayed.” And to deliver this warning to all parents: “Never lie to your children! With family secrets you harm your offspring. The truth is stronger than you, even after your death.”
A reality all the more in line with the Ukrainian news and its procession of violent trauma. “Wars have consequences for future generations. That’s what I think of today when I think of Ukraine,” says Alex Mayenfisch.
Will this story lead into a future documentary? “No. Writing and drawing allowed me to keep a certain distance. My documentaries are often historical and involve archives and witnesses. In this story, I don’t have any.”
Interview by David Berger
Adaptation web: Melissa Hartel
Alex Mayenfisch,ed. Sketchbooks.
Do you enjoy reading?and receive this book news newsletter created by RTS Culture every Friday.