Don’t be a Nazi. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times! No matter how beautiful, charmingly quirky, sexy, or kinky, they make it look, no matter how much you hate Jews, or commies, or the French, or gays, or fairies, no matter how much power, prestige, privilege, wealth, art, gigs, animals or memes they offer you: Don’t. Be. A. Nazi.
Seriously, I think I’ve averaged five or six documentary or narrative Holocaust-based films a year for the last two decades, and just once I’d like to see some pro-Nazi propaganda! Wait, I did see Triumph of the Will and—well, I wasn’t impressed. I did not see (not-see?) the appeal, but I suppose one wouldn’t at this late date. Bringing me to Final Account, which among the fairly standard “I see nothing!” and “Everybody Knew!/Nobody Knew!” tropes we’ve come to expect from the folks around at the time, contains an actual unrepentant paleo-Nazi.
I stress paleo-Nazi, because the neo-Nazis seem to be all anti-Zionists or at least “anti-Zionists”. But back in the day, one popular solution for “the Jewish Problem” was, of course, giving them their own homeland. So our one Waffen SS guy who doesn’t blame Hitler for the Holocaust, also didn’t agree with Der Fuhrer’s “opinion” that all the Jews should be murdered. He didn’t say he was pro-Israel, and I fault the late Luke Holland for not asking him directly.
In Holland’s defense, on the other hand, is the fact that he inserts himself very little. There’s certainly some careful editing going on, but for the most part he lets the old Nazis chatter about what they knew, what they didn’t know, what they did or didn’t do or shouldn’t have done without a voice-over to pronounce “Nazis Is Bad”. The high point, besides letting the old Waffen SS guy speak his (still pro-Hitler) mind, is letting everyone contradict each other, and sometimes just letting them contradict themselves, while asking what their own culpability might be.
The low point is the Wansee conference (no, not that one, but taking place in the same building for obvious reasons) where modern German nationalists are put in front of a remorseful ex-Nazi who’s basically saying, “Hey, we killed a bunch of people, therefore you should be happy about Albanian criminals walking your streets.” I mean, this part is gross exploitation (of an old Nazi, no less) and doubtless engineered by the typical “Turn The First World Into A Feudal Fiefdom” crowd where the genuine grief of a guy who made some Very Bad Choices seventy years ago is being used to blackmail some guys whose thought crime may be only that they want to control their borders.
Because, look: What do we hear about from these people who were sometimes literal children? Well, a bunch of progressives got into power, instituted eugenics, virtue signaled like crazy, demanded complete fealty to an intellectual and morally corrupt government, and—well, at one point, a woman defends her ignorance of Jews being interned by saying “we”—and it’s almost always “we” and not “I” in these stories—had thought they were political prisoners as if that somehow made it more palatable. Another says something to the effect of, “You have no idea the amount of pressure that was brought to bear [to enforce compliance].”
This was recorded in 2008, though, so I’ll cut him some slack. Because I think, now, we all do have a pretty damn good idea. This is an overlooked aspect to “Never again” which is simply that if you don’t understand what happened in the past, you have no chance of preventing it in the future. (See Watchers of the Sky for a great example of a documentary that seeks to end a phenomenon it doesn’t grasp in the least.) I think I understand it very well, and I find it challenging to judge these survivors: Responsibility has both a collective and an individual aspect to it, and societies such as the Nazis (and practically every modern government in the world, if we’re being honest) are oriented around the principle of creating apathy in their citizenry so they can do whatever they want. Which means the only way we can really “Never again” is by refusing to accept the notion that we can’t do anything, individually or in groups, to “change the status quo” or “fight the system” or whatever it takes to prevent a repeat.
On the ‘gique-doc scale:
- Subject matter: It’s well-trod ground, and I’d sure like to see the victims of Communism arrange a push like the Jews have to get those crimes as well known, but that doesn’t detract from the value.
- Presentation: Pretty standard. Interviews and assorted archival footage that looks semi-related.
- Slant: Well, I guess you could say it’s anti-Nazi. But as I mentioned, the best aspect of this is that it’s not really slanted that way. I mean, if you were pro-Nazi (I think there’s, like, six pro-Nazi people in the world not already in this documentary) you could go into this and not be especially moved.
I have no idea why it took Holland 12 years to edit this into a movie, except maybe his more profitable work (and his 2015 cancer diagnosis) interfered, though part of me wondered if it wasn’t the rise of Trump (and nationalism world-wide) that spurred it on. As it (mostly) avoided contemporary issues, I was okay with it. It doesn’t have the compelling aspect of Shoah or Last of the Unjust, or the niche appeal of The Art of the Steal, but it at least avoided the weird self-flagellation of Hitler’s Children.