Last Days

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Movie Review by Jenny Southall

Starring: Bill Basch, Martin Basch, Dr Randolph Braham, Alice Lok Cahana
Director: James Moll

Everything you’re about to see is true.

A woman eats the family diamonds that her mother has sewn into the lining of her skirt for fears of getting shot; as part of an experiment to change eye colour another is forced to stand in a dark cell for more than a week without food, drinking the ankle-deep water she and her countless companions are forced to defecate in; and a young boy looks on as his friend ? who he has promised he will protect whatever the cost ? is shot in front of him for having a gangrenous knee during the long march out of Auschwitz. ‘I let him down,’ he cries. ‘Why did God spare me?’ These are not scenes from SCHINDLER’S LIST but the real-life reminiscences of five Hungarian Holocaust survivors who are lucky enough to have lived through their terrifying experiences at the hands of the Germans during World War II.

And that’s what makes Oscar-winning documentary THE LAST DAYS so deeply moving and disturbing. The fact that these incidents, and many others that were more brutal, not only took place, but were allowed to continue over such a sustained period of time is still a shock.

The documentary, produced by Steven Spielberg and the Shoah Foundation, allows the survivors of the Holocaust to speak for themselves ? to tell their own experiences in their own ways. The lack of narration only underlines further the sufferings that these people had to endure. Some of the most moving scenes occur when the victims return to the camps where they were held and to the towns where they originally lived. Some are reunited with old friends they never thought they would see again, while others attempt to trace the bodies of missing members of their families.

But perhaps most haunting is the archive footage of the countless ‘walking skeletons’ that the Russians discover when the camps are finally liberated. The look of sheer desperation, confusion and fear in their eyes is one that will stay in my mind for many years to come.

In the words of director James Moll: ‘When you see what these five people went through it helps put your own life in perspective. We should all be so lucky as to have the strength and courage to build such successful lives, emotionally and in every other way. These people have endured adversity and triumphed over it. Their lives are truly inspirational.’

I hope we can all learn from their courage.