The Accountant of Auschwitz

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Accountant of Auschwitz Movie Poster Image
Justice comes late to WWII Nazi at German trial; violence.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 78 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Murderers should be punished, even if they murdered decades ago.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A German admits that he and fellow Nazis committed moral wrongs. Attorneys and government officials work to bring criminals to justice.

Violence

A German who had worked at the Auschwitz death camp described the facility, from the perspective of Germans, as "all fun and entertainment," with a cinema and music. Asked why Nazis killed innocent Jewish children, one German recalls that kids were "not the enemy at the moment; the enemy is the blood inside them." Survivors describe being separated upon arrival at Auschwitz from their parents, then never seeing their parents -- who were murdered by the Nazis -- again. Oskar Groning is asked how he felt about Nazis taking Jews' possessions when they arrived at Auschwitz. "They no longer needed them," he notes, referring to the fact that he, and everyone, knew the Jews were brought to Auschwitz to be killed. One disturbing black-and-white photograph shows a German soldier holding his rifle up to his shoulder and pointing it at close range at a mother shielding her small child from him. It was taken immediately before the woman and child were shot. One survivor says that hearing of Groning's guilty verdict was "like putting a bouquet on a non-existent grave of my [Nazi-murdered] parents." A twin recalls being injected with germs by infamous Nazi doctor Mengele, but miraculously surviving the near-fatal illness they caused. Many Nazi victims -- starved, naked, dead bodies -- are shown laid out in rows. A short film clip shows Nazis shooting Jews next to a ditch and the bodies falling in.

Sex

Many Nazi victims -- starved, naked, dead bodies -- are shown laid out in rows.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Accountant of Auschwitz is a 2018 documentary examining recent attempts to bring former Nazis to trial for war crimes. The focus is on two in particular, who were convicted in the 2000s of mass murders during World War II.  Witnesses and historians recount atrocities in graphic and vivid detail, as in the case of an SS colonel at a death camp who took a Jewish baby by the legs and killed the child in front of many witnesses, smashing it against a truck. German records and documents attest to the killing of more than a million Jews at Auschwitz alone and photographs of starved, naked, dead bodies are among the artifacts of such Nazi horrors. A short film clip shows Nazis shooting Jews next to a ditch and the bodies falling in. Young viewers will probably be justifiably horrified by events described here, which may open the doors to further discussions on Germany's role in World War II.

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What's the story?

THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ is a story of legal triumph in the quest to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, in some cases 70 years after their crimes. Many Nazis went unpunished for crimes against humanity because early post-World War II legal theories required eyewitnesses to testify that individual Nazis perpetrated particular crimes, a high standard even for the Nuremberg trials that took place when everything was fresh in the minds of witnesses. Also, many Nazis were tried and acquitted, or sentenced and later released by the German government before completing their prison terms. The movie points out that many judges were Nazis and less likely to find against fellow Nazis, further distorting the post-War German justice process. One former American Nuremberg prosecutor recalls that only 22 of 3,000 possible Nazi defendants on his list were prosecuted in the 1940s because there were only 22 seats in the available courtroom. The revamped legal theory that allowed more recent prosecutions in Germany of John Demjanjuk, a Sobibor camp guard found living in America, and Oskar Groning, the so-called accountant of Auschwitz, was the notion that everyone working at these camps knew that Jews and others were brought there either to be worked to death or killed outright, thus anyone participating in any way in the assistance of that process was culpable. "I was told all the people who couldn't work were disposed of," Groning admits. Elderly Jewish witnesses testify to their brutal experiences in Auschwitz (one was a twin who miraculously survived after being injected with a disease by infamous Nazi doctor Mengele), and defendant Groning admitted that everything described at the trial indeed happened, making him a rare Nazi willing to corroborate the heinous acts of Germans during World War II.  

Is it any good?

This documentary does a great job of explaining Nazi horrors and the efforts to bring Nazis to justice, making this an excellent introduction to this topic for teens. The Accountant of Auschwitz raises moral dilemmas with regard to putting 90-year-olds in jail for what they did 70 years before. In the case of Groning, he admits what he did and admits it was wrong, but whether his actions were legally wrong or whether punishing him as an old man for acts of his youth would be proper are questions left up in the air. He was convicted by the German court, but his years of unsuccessful appeals kept him out of prison and allowed him to die a free man a few years later.

Advocates of the prosecution process argue that since the practice of state-run genocide didn't come to end with World War II, decent people and democratic countries have a responsibility to demonstrate that such crimes will never go unpunished in an effort to deter future atrocities. Regarding individual Nazi responsibility for mass murders and whether individuals ought to be held accountable, American attorney Alan Dershowitz recalls that there is "no evidence that Hitler [himself] ever killed anybody," yet there's no doubt that his leadership and policies were responsible for the deaths of around 10 million people during World War II.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the need to bring perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice, even years after their crimes. Do you think it's important to let others know that if they commit similar crimes they'll also be prosecuted?

  • Some express hesitations about punishing 90-something-year-old people for crimes they committed in their twenties. How do you think an accessory to murder should be treated by the law? Should age be a consideration?

  • Do you think perpetrators of other more recent crimes against humanity, in Rwanda, Darfour, Bosnia, and Syria, for example, feel emboldened knowing that so many Nazis went unpunished after World War II for their crimes?

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