In the last year of World War II, German defeat was inevitable. Yet rather than reinforcing his troops and focusing his efforts on battle, Hitler chose to renew his campaign to eliminate the Jews of Europe. Hungary, which had remained mostly untouched during the war, found her Jews being rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps where they were systematically and brutally killed during these last days. This documentary, directed by James Moll and produced through the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, whose goal is to document the memories of those who lived through the Holocaust, records the stories of five Hungarian Jews who managed to survive.
The five survivors, all now living in the United States, movingly tell how they made it and recount the tragedies they witnessed: Tom Lantos, a Congressman from California, whose 17 grandchildren are a gift from his two daughters to try to make up for the families Lantos and his wife lost; Alice Lok Cahana, an artist who uses her painting to testify to what she saw and to grieve for the meaningless death of her sister Edith; Bill Basch, who while working for the resistance escaped from Hungarian police by joining a group of Jews that were, unknowingly, being led to Buchenwald; Renee Firestone, an educator at Simon Wiesenthal Center's Educational Outreach Program, whose touching connection to the past is discovered in the simple gift of a bathing suit given to her by her father; and Irene Zisblatt, a grandmother who smuggled out, at tremendous risk, a few precious diamonds in order to buy bread when there was no more food to be had. Other interviewees include American liberators, a superkommando, and a Nazi doctor who performed experiments on camp inmates.
While the stories are tragic and watching this documentary is a tearful experience, the final message is one of hope, as the five people return to Hungary and the camps with their families to confront their pasts and say their prayers. While the occasionally graphic footage will disturb, this Oscar-winning film is one that should be shared with family as a way of educating and reminding us, "Never again." --Jenny Brown
The Last Days won 1 Oscar at the
1999 Academy Awards