Luke Holland’s latest mission to bring his “Final Count” to the world has been fulfilled with the premiere on Friday of the late director’s scathing documentary on the Holocaust.
Driven to urgent action in 2008, the documentary maker, whose grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust, attempted to interview the last living architects of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
Not the monsters in the history books, but the German men and women who participated or remained silent during 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 finished work, Holland, 71, died in July after a protracted battle with cancer.
“The film itself is the culmination of a lifetime’s work and mission,” says his longtime friend and associate film producer Sam Pope. “Luke was extremely happy to have finished it, to cross the finish line. He completed his mission.”
Pope, who met the filmmaker at age 6 when his family moved to his small town in East Sussex, England, believes that his film mentor was building to make the “Final Count” of his lifetime. he.
The UK-born Holland discovered when he was 14 that his mother was a Jewish refugee who had fled Vienna, Austria, just before the Germans entered. Jews were surrounded and sent to concentration camps, including grandparents from Holland, who died.
“Upon learning of the murder of his family, a spark was lit and informed his life and his work,” says Pope.
Holland became a documentary filmmaker, making movies like “Good morning, Mr. Hitler!” (1993) which showed Hitler and high-ranking Nazis up close through discovered home movies, and “I Was a Slave Laborer” (2000), which focuses on the compensation campaign of a former Nazi slave worker.
But in 2008, Holland realized that he was faced with a closing window to get the last word from a passing generation on the horrors that took place.
“He was driven to know that this was the final moment he would have to capture these interviews. Time was always against him, this generation was dying,” says Pope. “Initially he 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. ”
The Netherlands faced a decade of financial and logistical problems putting together the interviews, often sleeping on the couches of friends in Germany to save money. But the German-speaker’s ability to strike up conversations with ordinary people led to surprising revelations, some of which had never been whispered before, in humble rooms with cuckoo clocks and a retirement home. Some interviewees continued to deny having knowledge.
A former Wehrmacht fighter pointed out the family farm where fugitives from the nearby Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were hiding. Pushing further on Holland, the man admitted, “Well, we found them out and reported it.”
Holland continued working on the film until his terminal cancer diagnosis in 2015. “We didn’t know how long we would have to finish this movie. But it moved on,” says Pope.
Dr. Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, had been in contact with Holland from the beginning of the project. He calls the entire 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.”
It’s vital that dark revelations come from seemingly honest members of the community, especially today.
“Seeing them as human beings really demonstrates the point of the movie that there were no monsters. They were human beings who did monstrous things and lived with the consequences,” says Smith. “The bottom line is that Luke holds them accountable to some degree and shows us the fragility of human nature, the ease with which ideology fools us into putting on a uniform.”
Pope says he called Holland’s widow Yvonne Hennessy, mother of the couple’s two children, as the film neared premiere and found a powerful mix of family emotions.
“It’s a difficult and emotional experience for everyone,” Pope says. “But to have gotten to this point, to have Luke made it, to have the questions he wanted to ask heard and understood, they are incredibly proud of him.”