The Last Days

Though it’s full of the conventions of Holocaust documentaries — survivors who burst into tears in midstory, indelible footage of the walking dead— The Last Days is a bracingly unsentimental, moving retelling, focusing on Hungary, to which the Holocaust spread only in the last year of World War II. Director James Moll devotes the first half of the film to familiar-sounding testimony from five survivors; the second half shows them passing down history by returning to their hometowns and to the camps with their descendants. But instead of closure, says survivor Renee Firestone, there are only “new questions and new doubts.” Firestone, whose sister Klara underwent medical experiments before she died in Auschwitz, confronts the evasive Dr. Hans Munch, whose successful defense against war crimes charges was that, as long as he kept performing “harmless” trials on such subjects as Klara, he kept them from the gas chamber. Unanswered and unanswerable questions abound, not just why the genocide happened but also how those spared were to live with the memories. Says survivor Alice Lok Cahana, “For us, liberation wasn’t the last day.”

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