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lastdayslogo.jpg (5961 bytes)s

The Last Days

a documentary by James Moll
Website: www.octoberfilms.com

IN SHORT: Truth hurts. [not rated, 88 minutes]

There will be no traditional dollar rating at the bottom of this review of James Moll's The Last Days, because the film works outside of all the rules I've ever set up for the scale. The Last Days uses in their own words, the testimony of five survivors of the Nazi Holocaust to tell extremely personal tales of the attempted extermination of, in this case, the Jews of Hungary. As part of the telling process, the producers brought these survivors back to the towns they were born in and to the remains of the concentration camps that their loved ones died in.

FYI, Cranky's grandparents lost most all of the family that didn't emigrate to the States so, by extension, I have connection to the sense of loss. When I was a teen, there was a film called The Sorrow and the Pity that detailed collaborations between the French Vichy government and the Nazis and, as part of religious school training, we were all shlepped to a theater to watch the movie, all talking heads and archival footage. When asked afterwards what I thought, the very young pre-Cranky me said I "wasn't moved". The teacher was very shocked and upset at my lack of reaction. Looking back at it, twenty-five years later, I can barely remember why I had so little reaction. I think it was probably because a lot of middle aged faces talking at you is not the same as seeing the "real thing." The early 1970s were also a time when the Holocaust wasn't discussed much, and then not much more than "six million died". It would be at least a year before I found post War letters from the survivors in my family, hidden in a box on a top shelf in a storage closet. Even then, the letters didn't say much more than "you know what those bastards did".

The Last Days, produced by Stephen Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, lets five survivors tell their stories in their own words. No celebrity narrator. No recreations of historical scenes. Everything you see is archival. While the survivors lost most everything they had, the film's producers have managed to track down scraps of documentation of their lives. They return to the towns they grew up in, identified the houses where they lived; the apartments where they hid; the barracks in the concentration camps where they were imprisoned. One survivor, Renee Firestone, meets face to face with the Nazi doctor who, in all certainty, was responsible for the death of her sister. Alice Lok Cahana manages to find the death records of family members lost for fifty years. A third, Tom Lantos, is now a U.S. Congressman, who recounts the heroic efforts of Raoul Wallenberg that saved his life.

You will recognize the true horror of what you are seeing when, about three quarters of the way through, the film includes material shot by members of Patton's Third Army, the US troops that got to the camps. This color film of naked walking skeletons (for that is what the prisoners looked like), when it appeared, literally had all the reviewers in the audience I sat in quietly swearing under their breath (most invoking JC regardless of religious belief.)

That The Last Days is damned effective may have as much to do with the fact that I am a lot older than I was when I saw The Sorrow and the Pity as with the fact that it is an effective and well-made documentary. That the events of the War are so unpleasant will keep grownups away. If it helps change the mind of any teen that may have otherwise been "unmoved" then it has accomplished something. If it is used as a springboard to show that the events of a Holocaust are not limited to Jews -- the Serbians now call it "ethnic cleansing" and I don't speak Cambodian (rent The   Killing Fields for more info) -- then maybe the world can learn from the actions of a madman.

Yeah, Cranky is a lot older now. When Alice Lok Cahana located the final resting place of her sister Edith, in a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen, Cranky's gut told him that if she started saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, he would lose it. She did. So did I. A crying Cranky is not a pretty sight.

The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is  Copyright © 1995  -  2013 by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.