“I’m rich. I’m a Buddhist, and I’m disabled. So now you’ve got the full picture.”
Niko von Glasow has been a bundle of contradictions from the moment the outspoken film director was conceived. His father was a Jewish concentration camp survivor and his mother was the heir to a major Nazi publishing fortune. They met and fell in love in Cologne, Germany and had four healthy children. A year before Niko was born, his nine-year-old sister died in a tragic accident. A few months later, his mother was experiencing a grief stricken and sleepless night and took one Thalidomide pill as a sedative, unaware that she was in early pregnancy.
The night before Niko was born, his mother dreamed about an angel without wings. Niko, born with deformed arms, won the immediate acceptance and love of his parents and family but also within the small colony of artists who visited frequently because his father was an art dealer. As a child, Niko was given his first camera. He decided he would become a film director, a job he discovered he was suited for when he started to tell artists who were frequent visitors to their house, what he thought of their art and what they could do to ‘improve it’.
Niko says that even though he was born with two short arms, he didn’t realize he was disabled until he was 13. He was overcome with normal teenage sexual desires but discovered that his short arms were a real disability when it came to getting ‘stupid blonde girls to agree to a one-night stands’.
“I could only interest smart blonde girls,” he says. As always, Niko jokingly insists he’s serious and as always, it’s difficult to tell but there’s no question that he became so shy he stopped swimming or any activity that would expose his arms to public view.
“I hated being stared at and I didn’t want to have anything to do with Thalidomiders,” he admits. “If I saw a Thalidomider approaching, I’d cross to the other side of the street to avoid him or her.”
Niko discovered there wasn’t any real escape from the prejudices Thalidomiders encountered routinely. Niko used his abilities as a filmmaker to come up with an idea that would turn the tables on those who believe disabled people should be treated differently, an idea that was personally challenging but one that would shock and outrage some members of the German public. He would make a documentary that chronicled his efforts to persuade 11 other Thalidomide survivors to pose nude for a calendar in which he, reluctantly, would become the nude Mr. December.
The result was a feature documentary called NOBODY’S PERFECT, which would win a German version of an Oscar. In personal terms, Niko’s life as a Thalidomide survivor had changed profoundly. By forcing himself to pose nude, he had finally overcome years of shyness so that by the end of the film he could go to a public beach and go swimming with his 10-year-old son. The experience of working with other Thalidomide survivors for really the first time in his life had also radicalized him. Even though he was rich and didn’t need any compensation, Niko felt the German Thalidomiders hadn’t been fairly compensated by the drug company owners.
Niko remains deeply committed to helping his fellow Thalidomide survivors and lobbying for the compensation he believes they deserve.