Review: Final Account (2020)
The theme of ordinary people carrying out the atrocities of the Nazi regime has paradoxically been done to death and, yet with the mother of fascists once more pregnant, in urgent need of another telling. And yet any account has to also find its right to exist amongst Claude Lanzmann’s works, including obviously his masterpiece Shoah, and books like Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners.
Luke Holland’s film at first looks relatively slight, with a mere 90 minute running time and a format of talking heads. The interviewees are for the most part men who joined the Hitler Youth at an early age and then made their way into the SS. Now with the duplicitous benignity of age softening their features, they offer a mixture of evasion, excuses, regret and in some cases pride. Some of the replies contradict each other. The Waffen SS was the worst, one declares just after another man said that the Waffen SS only fought the enemy and had nothing to do with the killing of civilians. Some contradict themselves declaring they had nothing to do with the killings only to reveal an intimate knowledge of what certain scenes looked like.
The devil is not so much in the details as in the furniture. There is something particularly chilling about the way these old people are interviewed in the midst of the furniture and decorations of a long life fully lived, something the victims of the regime never had. They can’t help but wax lyrically and nostalgically other the camaraderie and fun of their youths. They sing songs which they claim were not particularly political although they sound pretty Aryan and one song that opens the film is about sharpening the long knives to stick into the Jew’s belly.
This generation will soon be gone. Indeed filmed in 2008, some will already be dead. However, the ideology and the values which made Nazism possible are still very much alive today. Evidence can be seen in a school trip to the setting of the Wannasee conference which one of the old men is chairing. He is deeply regretful and ashamed and tries to communicate his disgust to the gathered teenagers, only to be challenged by one of the kids with a full throated defense of Germany’s history. ‘Why don’t you worry about an Albanian stabbing you instead?’ the young man says.
It is this scenes more than any other that underlines the fact that the usual bromides repeated on Holocaust Remembrance Day are no longer sufficient. And this film starkly shows not only how ordinary people can be embroiled in committing monstrous acts but also how unfortunately we might be heading there again. Sadly, Luke Holland died before the completion of his film, but this rests as a genuine contribution to the argument and a work of great historical value.
Runtime: 90 minutes
Production companies: Participant, Passion Pictures, ZEF Productions
Producers: Luke Holland, John Battsek, Riete Oord
Directed by: Luke Holland
Cinematographer: Luke Holland
Editor: Stefan Ronowicz