2021 marks the 76th anniversary of the end of World War II, which means the eyewitnesses and participants that were involved in the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, are rapidly decreasing. That is why British documentarian Luke Holland spent nearly thirteen years (2008-2020) interviewing hundreds of Germans about their memories of the war and condensing their conversations into a feature-length documentary presented by Universal Pictures and Focus Films titled “Final Account”. Holland constructs never before seen interviews with the last living generation from Hitler’s Third Reich.
The individuals interviewed in Luke Holland’s documentary are now anywhere in age from their 80’s to 100. They were just children when Hitler rose to power in the 1930s and some of them eventually becoming soldiers, SS officers, guards and prison camp employees who stood by silent, while some sympathetic and others unconcerned to witnessing the capture, torture and murders of thousands of Jewish prisoners.
Most of the historical documentaries focus on Holocaust survivors or the veterans who fought and won World War II. But in “Final Account”, Holland uses the same idea and structure and instead sees history from the opposite side. Holland is interested in both what they remember and how they’ve dealt with the memories. The interviewees share their memorabilia from the Reich, while Holland mixes in interviews from their living rooms and kitchens with historical archival footage.
Some of the survivors express regret and wonder how humans could treat another human with such cruelty. As others would say they wish Hitler had sent the Jews away instead of killing them and others said they would flat out refuse to even believe the magnitude of the Holocaust. Some experience shame, regret, and we see one man speaking to skeptical teenagers in trying to convey to them what a serious and terrible time it was. Heartbreakingly one student refuses to listen and denies that the Holocaust ever happened.
In a couple chilling interviews that includes a survivor that served as a former Waffen-SS soldier, who said he has no regrets and that he’s proud of his past. In another a survivor served as a guard at one of the concentration camps, who slowly comes to admit that he was a collaborator even if he didn’t commit any atrocities himself. In the films most chilling interview, a survivor shows no regret for his wrongdoings in saying he feels nothing for the Jews and others murdered by the Reich.
Many of these men and women acknowledge that they weren’t aware that the mass killings and concentration camp horrors were even going on. While others knew about it, but could not speak out against it for fear of their own lives. 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.
Director Luke Holland was born in England and he didn’t know his mother was Jewish until he was in his teens. He dedicated the film to his grandparents, who were murdered in the camps. Holland didn’t live to see his film premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival, as he died of cancer in June last year at age 71. Holland’s aim, was to track down and interrogate the last surviving witnesses to the crimes of the Third Reich through 250 conducted interviews. The USC Shoah Foundation will incorporate these testimonies into its program for high school students, preserving the recollections of this last surviving generation.
“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. “Final Account” is a monumental achievement and important addition to the library of films on the subject of Germany and the Holocaust.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)