From 'Final Account'

The 90-minute documentary gathers the final remaining accounts of the last-living generation of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Final Account grapples with a difficult question that the world has struggled to answer in the decades following the Holocaust: At what point does complicity turn people into predators?

The 90-minute documentary gathers the final remaining accounts of the last-living generation of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. It retells the stories of everyday men and women who grew up in Germany and joined the Nazi movement, many as youth or teens. Some held smaller positions, working as bookkeepers, while others rose in power to become high-ranking SS officers.

By examining tiny individual acts of conformity, the documentary paints a picture of how the mass movement came to power, quickly growing into an unstoppable wave. Directed by Luke Holland, who died shortly after filming was completed on June 10, 2020, Final Account looks at authority, conformity, complicity, national identity and responsibility from a lens seldom seen.

Final Account Poster

The German-language British-American documentary, which was 10 years in the making, asks participants of the Third Reich to reexamine their actions, weighing out what they could have, would have done differently. Holland and his team press challenging topics in the highly candid interviews, going over often-unspeakable memories, perceptions and personal appraisals.

For many of the film’s subjects, who are now well into their 90s, looking back at their own role in the greatest crime against humanity in history is something few can readily face. Throughout the documentary, which moves at a fast pace with few breaks, we see denial, anger, bargaining and, in a few instances, acceptance. It’s an emotional watch that raises more questions than answers.

Some interviewees still choose to believe the Holocaust never happened, unable to face the actions of their homeland even 75 years later. Others spend their final years educating youth about the dangers of complicity, an effort to prevent history from repeating itself. It’s a stark juxtaposition, showing just how far people are willing to go to defend or condemn their actions.

The film is mostly talking. We see the subjects in their homes, often surrounded by relics of the past: old portraits on the wall, yellowed Nazi paperwork, sometimes even military medals (including the heart-wrenching skull and crossbones “death’s head” symbol). On first glance, these participants look like average civilians, no different than any other elderly man or woman. It drives a crucial message home: Most participants of the Third Reich were everyday people.

While many Holocaust documentaries examine and remember the Jewish struggle, showing footage of concentration camps before and after their liberation, Final Account takes the opposite perspective. It shows life as it was for German civilians-turned-Nazis leading up to the war, often through enhanced colorized footage. They laugh, they play, they walk down the street with their friends. It’s hard not to lose yourself in the normalcy of it all, arguably one of the main points of the film. Very rarely do we see the war from this side, an eye-opening experience.

Final Account is a slow burn. Though it moves quickly at 90 minutes, the momentum steadily builds. It opens with the memories of several personal interviews, each vastly different from the last yet still somehow eerily similar in nature. We see how national identity, authority and conformity pushed these individuals to comply with the horrors of the Holocaust, whether they became active participants or simply chose to stay silent about what they were witnessing.

The film also educates about lesser-known concentration camps and other crimes against humanity, using never-before-seen footage to connect how each action and event impacted the others, resulting in the overarching devastating force of the Third Reich. As it nears its last minutes, Final Account asks each participant whether they now believe, at the end of their lives, that they were guilty of contributing to the Holocaust. The answers are surprising and shocking.

Some participants have accepted their roles. Others will defend Hitler’s actions to the grave. Though Final Account is not an easy watch, and one that can make viewers feel angry or confused, it’s an important reckoning of how far complicity, especially in mass form, can truly go. 

Final Account opened in theaters May 21. — 4.5 stars.