‘Last Days’ of Innocence

“There was no magic to our survival. It was sheer, pure, unadulterated luck, for men and women infinitely more worthy perished,” Congressman Tom Lantos said at an advance screening of “The Last Days.” “Life is unfair, and there is no more dramatic example than the lottery of death we call the Holocaust.”

The “lottery” favored Lantos and four other Hungarian Jews, who relive their intensely personal stories of survival, and ultimate regeneration in America, in the wrenching film.

Presented as the first feature documentary by Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, “The Last Days” premières tonight in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, before opening in cities across the United States in subsequent weeks.

The film’s title refers to the final phase of World War II, when Germany had clearly lost the war on the battlefield. Instead of husbanding every resource and man for the defense of his shrinking Reich, Hitler redoubled his efforts to complete the extermination campaign of European Jewry. Hungary’s Jewish community, the last one still intact in occupied Europe, was his final major target. As an Axis ally, Hungary had more or less managed to protect its 825,000 Jews, until German troops marched in on March 19, 1944.

Racing the clock against advancing Soviet forces, Adolf Eichmann and his cohorts deported, within three months, 440,000 Jews to Auschwitz, where almost all perished. Ultimately, 565,000 Hungarian Jews did not survive the Holocaust.

Among those who did survive are five men and women whose testimonies were collected by the Shoah Foundation, alongside the video records of 50,000 other surviving Nazi victims.