The Last Days: A DVD Review
We Must Never Forget
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We Must Never Forget
This tightly focused 1998 documentary from executive producer, Steven Spielberg and director, James Moll is extremely powerful and touching. It would be a perfect vehicle to bring home the reality of the holocaust to teenagers and young adults distanced from the tragedy by time. In a little less than an hour and a half, we are introduced to five Hungarian holocaust survivors as well as a former Auschwitz "doctor" and several liberating US soldiers who were among the first outsiders to witness the horror of the concentration camps.
The focus on only five of the survivors gives the viewer an opportunity to get to know each one and to care deeply. We see them now, seemingly recovered and happy in their homes with strong supportive family members, and then we see them returning to the site of their imprisonment, searching for the homes from which they were driven, talking with former neighbors who also remembered the days when the Jewish people were driven from their homes and their towns in Hungary.
In one very strange and puzzling scene, a survivor questions the Nazi doctor about her sister, who had undergone experiments for six months and was then killed. She asks, "Why six months?" He coolly replies, "It was the standard time. You were there. You should know that." Yet, earlier in the film - when not face-to-face with a survivor - he had explained that the reason he was not convicted of crimes was that he and those in his lab had concocted harmless experiments for the purpose of keeping the subjects from being executed. I will always wonder why he did not tell the survivor this and why his attitude was so cool.
It is of particular interest that these survivors were all from the last days of the final solution. This was the period of time at the very end of the war when Hitler knew Germany was defeated and yet, continued to funnel time, energy, money, equipment and man-power into exterminating the Jewish population. In fact, efforts to exterminate the Jews were stepped up during this time; even though, to stop would have helped both the German war effort and Germany’s post-war public image. One survivor marveled that killing Jews was more important to Hitler than winning the war.
As the survivors recount their arrests, their experiences of being lied to, stolen from, transported like abused livestock, starved, it is hard to understand how all this could have happened, and it is important to realize that it happened in increments. One survivor says that, at first the changes happened so slowly and in such little steps that they were easy to accept. Then, as they escalated, people had become used to having rights stripped away and being forbidden to do one thing and another, so they just said, "Well, it is just one more thing."
The film of the camps and prisoners is heartbreaking and wrenching. The horror of the sheer numbers of starved, suffering and dying people staggers the imagination. The people who were subjected to these horrors could not possibly have imagined what awaited them. That any human could stand by and allow this to happen or make it happen is beyond belief, and yet it is true.
This documentary and the many, many hours of testimony gathered by the Shoah Foundation, established by Steven Spielberg, must be widely viewed by all people, everywhere. We must never forget that this horrifying and tragic event in history did, indeed, happen and that it could happen again. In the face of the huge amount of documentation available, the assertions of Holocaust deniers are ridiculous, terrifying, and insane - much the description many applied to Hitler and the Nazis before WWII.
For the safety of all people the world over, we must never forget.
I give this important documentary 5 Stars.
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