Final Account Holocaust documentary is the searing last mission for late director Luke Holland

Luke Holland’s last mission to bring his “Final Account” to the world has been fulfilled with the Friday release of the late director’s searing Holocaust documentary.

Spurred to urgent action in 2008, the documentary filmmaker, whose grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust, sought to interview the last living architects of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Not the monsters from the history books, but ordinary German men and women who participated or were silent through the monstrous atrocities of the Holocaust – from former SS members and concentration camp guards to farmers and housewives. After completing 300 interviews and editing the completed work, Holland, 71, died in July after a prolonged battle with cancer.

“The film itself is the culmination of a lifetime’s work and mission,” says his longtime friend and film associate producer Sam Pope. “Luke was supremely happy to have finished it, to make it over the final line. He completed his mission.”

Director Luke Holland during the film of "Final Account." (Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features LLC.)

Pope, who met the filmmaker at age 8 when his family moved to his small village in East Sussex, England, believes his filmmaking mentor was building towards making the “Final Account” his entire life.

The U.K-born Holland found out when he was 14 that his mother was a Jewish refugee who had fled Vienna, Austria just before the Germans marched in. Jews were rounded and sent off to to concentration camps, including Holland’s grandparents, who died.

“Learning of his family’s murder set off a spark, and informed his life and work,” says Pope.

Holland became a documentary filmmaker, making films such as “Good Morning Mr. Hitler!” (1993) which showed Hitler and high-ranking Nazis up-close through discovered home movies, and “I Was a Slave Labourer” (2000), focusing on a former Nazi slave laborer’s campaign for compensation.

A young German man gives the Nazi salute in "Final Account.' (Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features)

But in 2008, Holland realized he faced a closing window to get the last word from a passing generation on the horrors that took place.

“He was spurred on knowing this was the final moment he’d ever have to capture these interviews. Time was always up against him, this generation was dying,” says Pope. “He initially set out to meet the people who had murdered his grandparents and ask them ‘Why?’ But if he couldn’t meet them, then he could meet people like them.”

Holland dealt with a decade of financial and logistical issues gathering the interviews, often sleeping on friends’ couches in Germany to save money. But the German speaker’s ability to draw out conversations with everyday people led to startling revelations, some they had never whispered before, in humble rooms with cuckoo clocks and a retirement home. Some interviewees continued to deny any knowledge.

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Klaus Kleinau appears in the documentary "Final Account." (Photo: Focus Features LLC.)

One former Wehrmacht fighter pointed out the family farm where escapees from the nearby Bergen-Belsen concentration camp hid. In further prodding by Holland, the man admitted, “Well, we discovered them and reported it.”

Holland continued to work on the film through his 2015 terminal cancer diagnosis. “We didn’t know how much time we would have to finish this film. But he kept going,” says Pope.

Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, was in touch with Holland since the project’s origin. He calls the completed film “a remarkable contribution, the first time we’ve really seen the history of the Holocaust presented through the eyes of those who were part of the infrastructure that the Nazis built.”

Having the dark revelations come from seemingly upstanding members of the community is vital, especially today.

“Seeing them as human beings really makes the movie’s point that there were no monsters. They were human beings that did monstrous things and were living with the consequences,” says Smith. “The final account is Luke holding them to account to some degree and shows us the fragility of human nature, how easily we’re beguiled by ideology and by putting on a uniform.”

Pope says he called Holland’s widow Yvonne Hennessy, mother of the couple’s two sons, as the film has neared release and found a powerful mix of family emotion.

“It’s a difficult and emotional experience for all of them,” says Pope. “But to have gotten to this point, for Luke to have achieved this, to see the questions he wanted to pose be heard and understood — they are so incredibly proud of him.”

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