There are literally hundreds of documentaries about the Holocaust. It's a sign of how truly horrific that event was that filmmakers continue to find new stories to tell, or new angles to examine it from. Director Luke Holland spent a decade making Final Account. His time and effort were well worth it. He interviews members of the last living generation from Hitler's Third Reich. The movie is equal parts chilling and enlightening. It should be required viewing for every teenager and adult in the country.
Reactions of the interviewees is varied. One of the folks we meet is Hans Werk, who was once a member of the Waffen-SS and now looks back in horror at what he took part in. To make amends, he attempts to teach school groups about the Third Reich. In a remarkably frank, tense scene, Werk meets with a bunch of students, only to find that many of them downplay the seriousness of fascism and nationalism. To say that's eye-opening would be an understatement.
A few are, to varying degrees, less contrite than Werk. One denies that six million Jews were killed during the “Final Solution,” while others maintain a sense of pride for having been part of the Third Reich, even if they don't entirely condone what it did. “I’m ashamed as a German but not as an individual,” one woman proclaims of her experience. Then there are those in between. Several subjects, who were children at the time, reminisce fondly about the summer camps they attended and the jingoistic songs they learned. Memories of events like Kristallnacht are shared, as well, with one man recalling the disbelief he felt when fire fighters stood watching a synagogue burn rather than extinguishing the flames.
There are two significant ways Final Account impacts you. First and foremost, hearing from those who remember the Third Reich provides a valuable history lesson. Personal accounts like these often get our understanding of the Holocaust to a deeper place. Anyone with even a remote interest in the subject will hang on every word.
Then there's the second way. Because not all the interviewees have the same moral perspective, it becomes clear that elements of the mindset persist. Some people still make excuses, minimize what occurred, and/or use “I was just following orders” as a justification for having committed atrocities. A crucial message is therefore sent – that we need to continue studying the Holocaust and, more importantly, keep teaching about it because the lessons still haven't been fully absorbed.
Final Account doesn't break any new ground in the filmmaking department. It's a standard “talking head” documentary, with some footage of notable locations, including concentration camps, poignantly interspersed with interview clips. Flourishes really aren't necessary, though. The testimony from witnesses and participants is more than sufficient to hold viewers' attention. This is a vital film.
out of four
Final Account is rated PG-13 for thematic material and some disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.