When I was young, my aunt who raised me spoke about World War II and the impact of Nazi Germany. She grew up in the thirties and forties with German parents and Grandparents. She felt a responsibility to inform and educate her children about the dangers of conformity and wanted us never to forget the death toll, the pain, and suffering caused during the war. I also have Jewish friends and know that never forgetting is an impossibility for them. But as we get further from that time period, I see fewer who are taught and remember so when I saw the trailer for this documentary I wanted very much to watch it. My hope was that it would bring to light the truth of Nazi Germany, of the atrocities, and to help the world remember. While it was difficult to watch, it was powerful, it spoke of how an entire generation of Germans did monstrous things, and how complex humans allowed fear to guide them to terrible actions. This film might be difficult to watch but that’s why it’s necessary to do so.
Final Account filmed in German, is a documentary film directed and produced by Luke Holland, in remembrance of his own Jewish grandparents. The film follows the last living generation of German participants in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. It raises questions about conformity, complicity, perpetration, national identity, and responsibility as it questions men and women ranging from former SS members to civilians. The decade-long process of interviews reckons with their memories, perceptions, and personal appraisals of their roles in the greatest human crimes in history. The interviews probe and question the difference between complicity and being a perpetrator, bringing together interviews with the actions of Nazi Germany and the Third Reich.
Part of what makes this film so powerful is how the director mixes the interviews with historical information and accounts of events that occurred during the Third Reich, events that led up to World War II and during the war. Many of the participants were children when Adolf Hitler was elected. In speaking with the participants, they discuss how events within Germany evolved. Interviewees talk about the youth programs, how they encouraged children to trust their teachers, not their parents. They were molded into soldiers, encouraged to believe they were the elite. They were encouraged to assist with ostracizing Jews. As the interviews proceed, the director mixes in information on the youth programs. The interviews delve into various arrests and how people were afraid to discuss anything openly, further alienating individuals from each other and creating complicity. The director also shows images of Kristallnacht, the concentration camps, gas chambers, and the various ways in which individuals were brutalized by the Third Reich as the interviewees speak of their actions and the actions of the government. The interviews provide the point of view of the individuals but the director helps illuminate the gaps in perception and what actually happened.
The film’s intensity is part of why it is successful. The interviews make it clear that Hitler rounded up his opponents once he was voted into office. He arrested everyone who disagreed with him and many were killed. An environment of fear was created and many individuals went along with the youth programs, the camps, and other programs out of fear of speaking out. The interviews also made clear that many disliked the Jewish people and blamed them for their difficulties. Comparisons can easily be made to modern-day America, where “insert name” is at fault. Children were taught to call names and bred to hate anyone who was different. They were treated as elite and fought to become what was expected. When Euthanasia Centers were opened, they were talked about but quietly. And per several interviewees, many profited off the work camps, the internment camps where prisoners were literally worked to death, their bodies brought back to camp just to ensure a correct count but not over any caring for the person. And while many of the individuals interviewed were ashamed of their actions, some even teaching the younger generation to not become like them, there are others that see nothing wrong with what they did, see it as still someone else’s fault. And that is the truly chilling thought, that some never learn from the evil that they have done.
And what makes it even more difficult but worth watching is the comparisons to events of today. There is the sense that if hatred and monsters can be made rather than born that this can all happen again. The film demonstrates how the participants were complicit by their silence and lack of action. That silence forces them across the line to perpetrators as much as those who were prosecuted and imprisoned after the war. We can see that same hatred and lack of empathy in our society today. Even in our society today, there are those who find it easy to blame others for their troubles, who find it easy to hate, to blame the outsider instead of embracing peace and justice. I truly believe that this film is critical, that if more people watch it, they will educate themselves and see how to speak up, how to fight for justice, and how not to become the monsters that Germany did during World War II.
If you want to learn more about the Third Reich, what it means to conform and be complicit in terrible deeds, I highly suggest watching this film. From a historical point of view, it is educational, especially if you haven’t learned much about the actions of Germany during the Holocaust, and from a human point of view, it is harrowing, chilling, and gives a view into how monsters are not born but rather are made. If you can, this might be one of the most important films you will ever watch. In a final thought, the director spent ten years of his life creating this documentary in memory of his Jewish grandparents who died in Germany and this is his last project as he passed away in June. I truly believe this masterwork of art should be viewed as a remembrance of those who have been lost and so we never forget the cost of the Holocaust. The lives lost should always be remembered.
Final Account opens in theaters on Friday, May 21, 2021.