Germans Recall Nazi Era in “Final Account”

May 18, 2021
FINAL ACCOUNT by director Luke Holland, released by Focus Features. Courtesy of Focus Features

The documentary film “Final Account” opens with an old German man humming a popular song of the Nazi era, which starts with “Sharpen your knives so they slip easier into the Jewish belly.”

During the rest of the film, a dozen or so survivors, who grew up during the Hitler reign, recount their experiences, some with regret but most matter-of-factly or even with a touch of nostalgia.

“I couldn’t wait to join the Jungvolk,” the introductory Nazi youth group, recalled one man. “When you are ten you want to get out of the house.”

His influential examples were his grandfather, who had bought his first brown shirt uniform at a Jewish clothing store, and his mother, who joined the Nazi women’s organization early on.

Another man didn’t particularly like the Nazis but enjoyed singing with them and a third joined to play on their soccer team.

“My first grade teacher made me into a Nazi,” a third interviewee recalled, and during Kristallnacht all classes were cancelled so that the students could watch the synagogues burning.

At 14, boys “graduated” into the Hitler Youth, where, during boxing lessons, they were encouraged to keep punching “until the blood was flowing.”

A man who lived near a concentration camp, maintained he had no idea what was going on inside. He was loudly contradicted by another German, who exclaimed, “Baloney, everybody knew and saw the prisoners being taken to their work places under guard.”

Throughout their “education,” German boys and girls were told constantly that Jews were responsible for all German misfortunes, that all had hooked noses, were greasy and that any Aryan could identify a Jew by his smell.

The making of “Final Account” stretched over a 12-year period, starting in 2008 and not completed until 2020. The creative force was British film director Luke Holland, who learned only as a teenager that his mother, Gerty, was a Jewish refugee from Vienna, whose family had been killed in the Holocaust.

Over the next dozen years, Holland and his team interviewed more than 160 German citizens, but a few weeks after completing the mammoth project, Holland died.

The Journal spoke with Sam Pope, a fellow Briton, who worked as associate producer of “Final Account” for almost the entire duration of the project.

“One of the most challenging aspects in making the film was to stay calm while conducting the interviews,” Pope told the Journal.

“We talked to some Germans who had been concentration camp guards… some who were ashamed and wanted to come to term with their past, and others who still retained a dedication to the (Nazi) ideology.

“We had to keep our emotions in check…One can never tell the full story of this great crime.”

The Journal asked Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation and founder of the Holocaust Center in England, whether the Nazi era was unique to Germany or could happen in another country, say the United States.

Without addressing the question directly, Smith said that “the Nazis understood the law” and managed to propagate their program, including the disenfranchisement of the Jews, within a legal context.

One result was that there was hardly any civil disobedience by ordinary Germans, abetted by putting almost the entire population into uniform.

In addition, the Weimar Republic, the last popularly elected German government before Hitler took over, was so polarized and fragile that it could not withstand the international consequences of the 1929 Wall Street crash and the subsequent global Depression.

Smith, a Christian theologian by training, added that the Holocaust was not merely a Nazi crime but “the failure of European civilization…the memory of the Holocaust has been left to the Jews.” AMC Promenade in Woodland Hills.

“Final Account” will open May 21 at two theaters, the AMC Burbank16 and the AMC Promenade in Woodland Hills.

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