Review: Final Account
I doubt anyone is clamoring for another documentary on World War II and in particular, one on the Nazi treatment of Jewish people. However, I urge you to seek Luke Holland's Final Account out. This is a treasure of documented memories from one generation to future generations. Clear-eyed, revealing, and often chilling, the documentary focuses on recording the stories of Germans who took part in the genocide. Holland wisely avoids any high-ranking Nazi's and instead focuses on the everyday people who helped this atrocious death machine run.
It is remarkable how Holland coaxes candid accounts from now senior citizens who all had mundane roles in the war. Some were guards at the concentration camps for example. Most of them have grown to regret their time or at least look back at Hitler's ideology as something strange and of the past. A few, like a former SS soldier, hold onto their pride and claim to have no regrets. For many of the subjects interviewed, Nazi life began in their youth, at camps where they played and were taught. From there, Holland traces them to their roles as soldiers and camp workers.
One early moment that struck me in more than one way, is hearing about how enticing the Hitler youth camps were. The archival footage of happy children studying anti-Semetic literature can be tough to see but Holland uses it to make us understand the invasive and manipulative way that Hitler and the Nazi party worked. Many of these kids just wanted to have fun and the most fun to be had was at these camps. Final Account routinely does a great job at showing how prevalent Nazism was in Germany at this time.
As the documentary moves into probing these participants in how they feel, looking back on what happened, most of them skirt accepting direct responsibility. This is enlightening as to how a whole generation of German people copes with the atrocities of their past. Most claim they didn't know about the concentration camps while others who are willing to admit their role felt they had no choice. It is true that resistance meant death in many cases. One subject recounts being forced to kick out a stool from a Jewish man who had a rope around his neck. He felt he had no choice in the action.
Final Account has resonance in any age. It is a reminder that atrocities like the Holocaust are not undertaken by just fanatics but everyday people who were following orders and trying to stay alive. There is a powerful scene where one of the subjects speaks to a group of teenagers about his remorse. One teenager pushes back on him for saying he fears Nazi revenge, saying he should be more worried about being attacked by an Albanian. The moment highlights that hatred and racism are still very much a part of this world and just because we know about the past, does not mean we won't repeat it.