By Owen Gleiberman
Updated February 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

The Last Days

type
  • TV Show
genre

Episode Recaps

It’s often a shock to see present-day interviews with Holocaust survivors, who almost inevitably appear sprightly and vigorous; only with an admiring shudder do we realize that that’s how they made it through the abyss. Interpolating conversations with five Hungarian survivors of the Nazi death camps, this scrupulously crafted documentary, executive-produced by Steven Spielberg (it was directed and edited by James Moll), takes just 87 minutes to lead us, step by step, through the horrific trajectory of the final year of World War II. We hear about the naive initial stirrings of disbelief at the rumors of Nazi aggression; the cattle-car train odysseys; the terror and obscenity of Auschwitz; the dawning gray light of liberation. There are details of heartbreaking candor, as when a woman recalls catching the eye of her father in a camp and seeing him weep with shame, and the film has too much respect for history to soft-pedal the gruesomeness of genocide. When we begin to see atrocity footage, it tears at us like a razor — especially a gasp-inducing clip of nude, emaciated men walking away from the camera like skeletal spectres. For all that, The Last Days, which has been nominated for an Oscar, never achieves the revelatory power of Night and Fog or Shoah, perhaps because it refuses to expand upon any single dimension of the experience. This is more like The Portable Holocaust, and, as such, it deserves a place in the high school curriculum for years to come. B+

The Last Days

type
  • TV Show
rating
genre
status
  • In Season
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