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Friday, June 4, 1999

Holocaust recalled with integrity

Movie: The Last Days

Posted on Fri, Jun 4, 1999 at 4:00 AM

****
Our Rating: 4.00

The woman cries. Her voice falters. She covers her face with her hands to suffocate the images that find unbearable refuge in her mind. Wounded, agonizing words -- the raw flesh of memory -- come slowly out of her mouth as she remembers hearing the screams, watching two children fall out of the truck, seeing an SS officer pick them up and hit them hard against the truck. She covers her eyes, but the image is still there: the children, the blood running down their faces.

"That's when I stopped talking to God," she says.

"I wasn't young anymore," the man looks up and smiles. "I was very old. I was 16, but I was very old."

Five Americans, all Hungarian Holocaust survivors -- a teacher, an artist, a grandmother, a businessman and a United States congressman -- talk about the last days of the Third Reich and Hitler's decision to carry out "the final solution," a full-scale genocide launched after the invasion of Hungary. Their terrifying stories describe in vivid detail the humiliation, the experiments, the death inside, the fear, the momentary absence of God. Their memories -- narrated in words that collapse under the weight of their own historical responsibility -- offer insight into a madman's hell: the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchen-wald.

Directed and edited by James Moll ("Survivors of the Holocaust"), "The Last Days" is the first feature documentary from the Shoah Foundation, whose mission is "to preserve eyewitness testimonies of the Holocaust survivors and teach racial, ethnic, religious and cultural tolerance."

"Highest on our list of priorities was strict historical integrity," says Moll. "Everyone who appears in the film was there when it happened -- including three American liberators at Dachau and Dr. Hans Munch, a former Nazi doctor who performed medical experiments at Auschwitz."

"It's good," says Dr. Munch as he looks over the records of one of his experiments. "These are all good tests. It's all good."

But "good" isn't the word that comes to mind when a silent camera pans over endless fields of wild flowers that hide thousands of graves. And the solitary angel of death wandering aimlessly through those fields still doesn't know whose forgiveness to ask.

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