Final Account

Perhaps the most important and chilling film of the year comes in Luke Holland’s lifetime masterpiece Final Account.

Over a number of years, Luke interviewed the last generation of Holocaust survivors – but not those who suffered it but rather those who casually perpetrated it.

It’s an extraordinary project and this final edit and doc is a must-see testament, possibly one of the most revealing and vital documentaries ever made about Nazi Germany.

Holland simply has tea with these people, elderly, frail citizens in their comfortable, kitsch homes, remembering that old question we were taught never to ask but always thought when meeting a German: “What did you do during the War?”

These are the little functionaries and villagers who carried on knowing the concentration camps were down the road, who could smell the bodies burning but said or did nothing. Even know, some of them swear allegiance to Hitler.

Holland’s technique is non-confrontational. We don’t see him but we hear his German and his conversation. These people know what they did, or didn’t do, but how should they live with it all these years after? Their words don’t exactly match up to the guilt that haunts their eyes, or maybe it me, reading my anger and hatred towards them. More tribute, then, to Luke’s ability to remain calm and to sit with them. Forgive them, for they know not what they do? But they bloody did know what they were doing.

I knew Luke pretty well, and we talked often about this ‘project’ he was making throughout the time I worked with him on the board of the UK Jewish Film Festival. In truth, it was a project that was getting away from him, its sheer amount of content and the power of these testimonies practically overwhelming him.

Luke died before he could really bring it to an end but it is now edited down to a patchwork of interviews, some of them on varying qualities of stock and film quality due to the length of years in the filming, but this version gets to the core and its subtle, steady gaze lasers into the dark heart of state-sanctioned evil, in all its banality, to used the word so famously coined by Hannah Arendt. 

This is what happens when people do nothing and the capacity for denial and delusion is staggering, even now. And whose fault is that? Should Germany have undertaken a mass education programme? Perhaps it did, and the generations after this one, this dying one, may know better. However, one suspects not, if the grandchildren of these people believe what their Oma and Opa tell them.

I hope Final Account becomes as required viewing as Lanzmann’s Shoah for students of the Holocaust. 

I was thrilled to present the film with the Best Documentary award at the UK Jewish Film Festival Closing Night a couple of weeks ago, the sense of a film coming home was palpable. But I was also at its premiere at Venice 2020, in that blissful little gap in the pandemic, when it played to a stunned room and received an ovation, when most of the crowd had no idea of Luke’s recent passing, so he was unable to see the accolades and ultimate power of his masterpiece work. 

His family were there, and their mix of grief and pride during the long applause can’t possibly be comprehended – almost as much as the old men and women who lived and served under the Nazis that we see in the film cannot quite understand what they did, how they let it happen or why they should shoulder any blame for it as they head to their graves unrepentant yet with shame in their hearts.