Parents' Guide to

The Last Days

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Oscar-winning docu about Holocaust survivors; violence.

Movie PG-13 1998 87 minutes
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This is an excellent documentary that should be must-see viewing for teens. Perhaps more pointedly than other documentaries on this subject, The Last Days movingly shines a harsh light on the last-ditch spasm of murder the Nazis engaged in, even as they knew they would lose the cataclysmic war they had launched on much of the world for years. Director James Moll and his dedicated colleagues achieve the goal of demonstrating the irrational hatred that must have sustained the Nazis' final push to complete the stated goal of a Final Solution by killing as many Jews as possible before the inevitable surrender to the Allies. The filmmakers chose five exceptionally articulate and thoughtful survivors, able to describe the nuances of their loss and grief. Some visit the concentration camps decades later and amid the stark remains, say kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, honoring lost family members. Tom Lantos, California congressman for 27 year, and the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, describes his experiences and his gratitude to the United States and why he dedicated his life to human rights.

What the movie does so well is to show the vastness, complexity, and sophistication of the Nazi effort to "cleanse" its world of Jews. Aerial photography shows acres of barracks as far as the eye can see where Jews and other victims were housed before their inevitable murder. The meticulousness of the operation made clear the thought and planning that went into the mass murder project. The efficiency of the cattle cars, the gas chambers, the crematoria, all custom-designed to transport and kill quickly and effectively, allowed the established system -- kidnapping, starvation, overwork, torture, and murder -- to function effectively for years. No matter how many times one has seen these images, they still assault the viewer anew. Once again it seems impossible that such heinous acts could ever have been committed, and yet we know they were.

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