The Reel Review
This Netflix documentary is billed as the final account from Germans and Austrians who lived through the Holocaust. Director Luke Holland’s film is the culmination of 300 hours of interviews compiled over a decade with those who as young people were eyewitnesses to The Final Solution, the Nazi plan that systematically killed six million Jews across Europe.
Unlike Claude Lanzmann’s landmark, nearly 10-hour, 1975 documentary Shoah, which interviewed high-ranking Nazi officers who oversaw the death camps, the majority of subjects in Holland’s film were teenagers or children during the Holocaust, attracted to the Nazi cause out of a sense of belonging and false patriotism. Final Account blends interviews with the now elderly folks with archival footage, set to desolate landscapes and a somber, cello and violin-laden score.
Unsurprisingly, the reactions of those interviewed range from the “well I was young and didn’t realize what I was doing,” to “oh it wasn’t that bad” and the equally unconscionable “it would have been better to just ship the Jews off someplace else.” Their banal attitude towards the Holocaust even after all these years is shocking.
Still, many of those interviewed do acknowledge the horror of they witnessed, describing the mandatory attendance at anti-Semitic movies in small villages, the sounds of Holocaust prisoners marching by in wooden clogs, and the sickeningly sweet smell of bodies being burned at one of the “euthanasia centers.”
One of the documentary’s most powerful scenes is near the end of the film, when a former Nazi officer tells a group of young right-wingers that the true Nazi ideology was not patriotism, but rather, hate. The 94-minute film, while sobering, is a bit slow, and doesn’t provide much depth behind the comments of those interviewed. It does, however, serve as an unsettling portrait of the dangers of complacency in the face of shocking inhumanity at a time when we face the prospect of such horrors happening yet again.
• Director Luke Holland, who discovered his Jewish heritage as a teenager upon learning that his mother’s Austrian parents were killed in the Holocaust, died of cancer on June 10, 2020 at age 71, just three months prior to his film’s release.
• Both Germany and Austria have outlawed the practice of Holocaust denial.
• The six million Jews killed in the Holocaust represented about a third of the planet’s Jewish population and two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe.