We need to talk about Nazis, don’t we.
They were a thing that I thought we had dealt with last century, yet some people – 🙄 – are foolishly trying to make ’em happen again in various parts of the planet and all around the Internet right now as I type, even.
All o’ that said, this is a serious issue, the matter of Nazism.
Final Account, by the late English filmmaker and documentarian Luke Holland, is an urgent portrait of the last living generation of everyday participants in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. As I sincerely hope you should very well imagine, this doc is a tough watch.
Polyglot though I may be, the German language is not the easiest to follow…or the kindest on the ears. Combined that with, say, footage of Nazi-in-the-making-uniformed youth training and merrily whooping it up among a nature that has rightfully carried on in spite of the association, like I said…this is a tough watch. Because some of those children survived those circumstances, and the genocide that they abetted, and are now grown-ass men and women, and have a voice in this film.
This is their exit interview, though, and seen through that ultimately generous filter, this documentary is a crucial education. Listen to your elders, especially the wise ones (shout-out to San Francisco’s Revolting Seniors), particularly the seemingly unchanged at heart, after all….
By confronting the past and the people who made it so horrendous, Holland – the son of a Jewish refugee from Vienna whose family was killed in the Holocaust – reminds us that we gotta understand where we’ve been and what we’ve done to grasp where we are and where we’re headed as humans on Earth. Otherwise we are doomed to repeat the same atrocities again and again. And as we’ve seen and realized the last few years, we are much too close, still, to the sort of ridikolous tribalism that fueled the Führer’s regime, so let this also be a reminder and a warning.
More than a decade in the making and based on some reported 300 interviews, Final Account premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival last September, three months after Holland’s death. The film raises vital, timely questions about authority, conformity, complicity and perpetration, national identity, and responsibility, as men and women ranging from former SS members to civilians reckon with – in different ways – their memories, perceptions, and personal appraisals of their own roles in the greatest human crimes in history.
A man recalls how, as a youth in the program, he was in his brown regulation all day, every day, for years. “That leaves a mark,” he says.
And that was their deal, wasn’t it…to get ya early and get ya good – for good.
Entire communities, kids included, were encouraged to watch in jubilation as, say, a synagogue burned to the feet of a fire brigade that would not fight the flames. Kids would learn from a regular German alphabet book and from a different one describing and depicting Jews in grotesque stereotypes. They were welcome to harass Jewish businesses and neighborhoods.
Hate was taught, plain and simple.
Another of those men remembers the most minute details of a true torture he witnessed, but won’t admit any guilt or spill any of the Nazi tea, for he is beholden to his secrets. It’s like, the ideology must be protected, since it’s so ingrained. I get that it’s a defense mechanism, but none of these old coots deserves our pitying understanding – but they do warrant our attention.
Some are still defensively bargaining with what happened, with what they did and didn’t do, now in their 80s or 90s, and most are still in some sort of denial. For most, it’s more mortifying that the killing happened so efficiently and in Germany’s name, y’ know.
In a final display of ambivalence, another man insists that “the idea was correct,” that Jews should have been driven out of pure-blood country and elsewhere, and boldly claims they shouldn’t have been murdered – but hindsight, as we know, is 20/20.
As least one of these folks is shown taking the time in 2011 to reach out to a new generation of neo-Nazis, to talk them out of following his path, but the fear is that it may be too little, too late.
Fear will embolden Nazism to endure and evolve into something more pernicious. It is our collective responsibility to educate ourselves and anyone who needs to get up to speed on the awfulness of this shameful part of our story, so that shit like this never happens again.