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Inglorious Bastards

Focus Features

Final Account (2021)

The documentary “Final Account” tracks down about 20 members of the last generation of Germans and Austrians from the Third Reich to glean their recollections. The typical responses: 1. We didn’t know! Nobody knew! 2. Everybody knew, but we were too scared to talk about it! 3. Ashamed. 4. No regrets.

Those in the League of German Girls basked in the excitement of uniforms, songs and marches. Waffen-SS members took pride in their elite status. Their membership cards, medals and other paraphernalia have been preserved in pristine condition. Franz Spalek, who was a masonry apprentice at the time, said most people benefitted from the industrial complex so they were OK with it. He nonchalantly recalled turning starving laborers in hiding over to the authorities. When asked to speculate what happened to those laborers, he replied, “No one knows!” Perhaps that’s how some have maintained their ignorance as others have been able to recount in detail the smell of burning flesh from 2 kilometers away.

The peak level denial, mental gymnastics and gaslighting sound all too familiar to anyone who has followed the Jan. 6 Capitol riot: Some said they didn’t take part in the atrocities even though they had official ranks and titles. Some said they weren’t perpetrators because they did not act on free will. Karl Hollander, a former SS senior lieutenant, has remained unrepentantly anti-Semitic even if he thinks the Jews should have been deported rather than murdered. Though the subject of the Holocaust has already been endlessly mined by countless documentary and fictionalized treatments, “Final Account” remains relevant for the modern parallels alone.

At one point the interviewer sounds exasperated and begins badgering Mr. Hollander. The scene brings to mind another documentary, “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy.” Although that frustration is understandable for anyone who’s ever been gaslit, what good does it do to barrage a frail old man who hasn’t changed his mind after all these years and isn’t about to now?


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