Director Luke Holland set about the incredibly brave task of getting on film as many of the last living members of Hitler’s forces as he could, and the result is a powerful, heartrending documentary called “Final Account.” Now in their eighties and nineties, these elder Germans reflect back on the terror that the Third Reich was able to visit upon Europe. But what of being German at that time? Was it easier to just conform when the Nazis were arresting and executing any who dared disagree? And does that excuse their complicity?
These are fascinating philosophical issues, and each of Holland’s subjects confronts them at a time in life when the “big questions” can never be far off from one’s mind as death nears. Many describe their participation in Nazi atrocities with a straight face—ergo, it was a “job”—and even excuse Hitler’s madness by saying he was able to bring together a country still in economic devastation following WWI and its notorious reparations payments to the Allies, which all but set the stage for Hitler’s ascent.
And then there are those who never break their stares, saying that moving Jews out of Germany was somehow necessary. Surely six million couldn’t possibly have perished in the camps, they say.
Human illusions are fascinating things. They take root in our psyches and, at least for some, refuse to leave. Would it be more devastating to abandon one’s beliefs and go back on them? No, better to double or even triple down—even at such an advanced age.
Yes, “Final Account” is indeed a film about history, but as we watch elderly Germans speak in counterpoint to black-and-white footage of Hitler’s rallies and the raptoursness of his audiences, one cannot help but think of a similarly scary cult surrounding a certain former president. “Isms” are so dangerous precisely because they are so attractive, and offer a common purpose.
May we never forget, and somehow learn to do better.
In theaters May 21st