Final account: Eyewitnesses and participants in atrocity

Review: Luke Holland’s documentary chronicles the mechanics of Nazism

Recollections play over images of earnest gatherings of Hitler Youth

Film Title: Final Account

Director: Luke Holland

Starring: Luke Holland

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 94 min

Fri, Dec 3, 2021, 05:00

   

As a teenager, Luke Holland discovered that his grandparents had died in the Holocaust. Some decades later, beginning in 2008, he set out with a small camera to interview the last living generation of Germans to have participated in the Third Reich.

Over a decade and hundreds of interviews later, Holland, who died last year,   fashioned Final Account, a chronicle of the mechanics of Nazi ideology, a film that ceaselessly illustrates its famous opening quote from Primo Levi: “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

The recollections range from older women who joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel not because they supported the party but because they “liked the uniforms”, to a gentleman who insists that: “I will not blame Hitler. The idea was correct.” Most testimonies fall within a spectrum previously explored by Hannah Arendt in 1963’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Daniel Goldhagen’s 1996 bestseller, Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

Recollections play over images of earnest gatherings of Hitler Youth. Dark propaganda was pervasive for the children and teens of 1930s Germany. Anti-Semitic songs from school, including a ditty that runs “Sharpen the long knives so they go better into Jewish belly”, are easily recalled, as is an alphabet book in which the letters were comprised of Jewish caricatures. Taking cues from such vile literature, one man explains that the Jews were disliked because of their “deal-making and hooked noses”.

Many recall an atmosphere of fear and coercion. The Hitler Youth, we are told, did not stop boxing until “blood flowed”. Nine-year-olds were encouraged to note who frequented Jewish businessses. One villager from a hamlet of some 175 people recalls their first exposure to electricity at a Nazi cinema mobile screening of the Goebbels-produced propaganda, Süss the Jew.

Evasions and obfuscations come thick and fast. “We were frontline soldiers, we had nothing to do with the camps,” or  “If I had said or done anything, I would have been killed.” Subjects protest that they were required to keep their mouths shut about the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre, about shooting prisoners into a pit, or even that a lot of people benefited.

One woman who worked a a U-boat bunker, logging the hours of German workers and omitting the hours toiled by doomed “foreign” workers, suggests that she was only a “wages clerk” and had “nothing to do with it”. A former camp guard and member of the SS Death’s Head unit admits that: “we didn’t beat or imprison anyone, but we went along with it.”

This is a vital companion piece to Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and it ends with a chilling coda. After a member of the SS recounts his culpability to a contemporary audience, an angry retort comes from a member of the young crowd: “You should be afraid that some Albanian stabs you on public transport! You should be afraid of that but not of your own kind!” The hatred lives on.