It's a fine line that the new historical documentary "Final Account" tries to walk: Is examining the Holocaust from the perspective of Germans too dangerous a venture? How does one do so without appearing sympathetic to such unthinkable evil?
As those who survived and/or lived during the time of The Holocaust become fewer and fewer as the years go by, it becomes more important than ever to archive first-hand accounts of what occurred, for history's sake but also for the sake of future generations, so that they can contextualize, if not ever truly understand, this unimaginable human catastrophe. But until now, we've rarely heard from Germans who actually were involved in Hitler's Third Reich...the thought of even doing so seems blasphemous, at best.
"Final Account" is a legacy project in more ways than one...it is also the final film from documentarian Luke Holland, who passed away in 2020 after a long battle with cancer. In this, his final film, Holland assembles interviews from nearly 300 elderly Nazi perpetrators, recorded over the last decade, and the results are stunning.
Stunning, mostly because of how relevant it feels to today - where men and women alike can find themselves pledging blind faith to a horrific man, and a horrific cause - and how absolutely mind-boggling it is to think that something like what happened in the 1930s and 1940s is still entirely possible...and how little we've learned.
Admittedly, "Final Account" isn't much of a film from a technical standpoint. It is basically a collection of interviews with old German men and woman, as they talk about how they became involved in WWII.
For many, becoming a Nazi wasn't even a choice, with young men and women enrolled at an early age into groups like "Hitler's Youth." Hitler was a popular figure before his rise to power, running on economic issues that appealed to the masses within Germany. But once in office, he eliminated and murdered all of his political adversaries and opponents. Many of these men and women remember their youth with blissful ignorance, not knowing what they themselves would become, let alone the country that they were proudly defending.
To the film's credit, we don't quite know what to make of each subject at the beginning of the film...are these men and women living a life of guilt and shame, having fully renounced Hitler and the Nazi Party? Or are these subjects still loyal Nazis? The answer ranges widely across the spectrum, with some actively trying to teach German youth to learn from their country's history, while others still honor Hitler and his cause, and everything in-between.
Many of these men and women repeat the same lies over and over...lies they've had to convince themselves of over the years just to be able to live with themselves. One such lie that is quite popular, is that they simply weren't aware that the mass killings and concentration camp horrors were even going on. Others acknowledge they knew about it, but could not speak out against it for fear of their own lives. Then there are those that admit that they'd do it again, as it isn't a soldier's place to question orders from their superiors, even when the orders are to carry out a mass extermination of an entire people.
But what is perhaps most striking about Luke Holland's film is it acts as an account of how men like Hitler can even rise to power, and how these types of men are in fact powerless without the willful ignorance of a population too afraid to act, or worse, too unmotivated to care. We would all like to think that those caught up in all of this would land at some level of remorse, even by old age, but it shows that many of these idle perpetrators never, ever, come around.
The best scene in the film features one such ex-German soldier, who has fully come to regret his wartime actions, who confronts a group of anti-immigrant German teens. They have a revealing back-and-forth, where he pleads with them to not make the same mistakes of the past.
This "Final Account" may be the last we ever hear from the generation that lived through those heinous times, but for future generations still living with the impact of their predecessors, there will undoubtedly be new chapters written.
Genre: Documentary, History.
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Directed by Luke Holland (feature-film directorial debut)
"Final Account" opens on Friday, May 21st, 2021.
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