THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ is an urgent and tightly drawn documentary from Matthew Shoychet about the recent trial of Oskar Groening, a nonagenarian ex-SS officer living an ostensibly nondescript life in Germany until prosecuted for accessory to mass murder. Featuring commentary from luminaries such as Alan Dershowitz - a most fascinating interview with the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, the man who ran Auschwitz - as well as interviews with the holocaust survivors who became co-plaintiffs, the doc takes us efficiently through the process of the trial, while also facing head on the difficult philosophical issues it raised. First and foremost is the question of whether there is a statute of limitations on criminal guilt. The second is whether someone who did not literally put the gas into the chamber can be accused of murder. The third is whether, in terms of moral guilt, it is possible or desirable to forgive.
On the first question, the documentary takes us through the shameful way in which much of Europe tried to conveniently forget the Holocaust in the decades after the way, and reintegrated former Nazis into civilian life. In that sense, THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ is the logical sequel to THE WALDHEIM WALTZ, also playing at the UK Jewish Film Festival. As one of the plaintiffs says, he is all we have - if we have to establish legal guilt through Groening, then we'll take that. On the second question, the historical attitude has again been quite slippery, but the doc makes the convincing argument that although only a cog in the machine, that killing machine could not have operated without its cogs. Not everyone can claim to just have been doing their job, or involved with the slave labour part of the camp, or too scared to say no. On the third question, the doc shows both sides of the argument. We have the compelling argument from a survivor and plaintiff that the only true way to triumph over an enemy is to forgive. But you have the evident disgust of others. These are not simple or easy questions to deal with.
Perhaps the most powerful message of the doc is just how relevant how we treat the perpetrators of the Holocaust is today. This is not simply a matter of writing historic injustices - although that is also of paramount importance. How we treat murderers also sends a signal to those who would perpetrate genocide today. And perhaps the fact that justice will seek you out, no matter how long it takes, will do something to prevent the ongoing mass murders of people based on race or religion. It's also important to get the facts on the record to defang deniers and to remind the younger generations of what happened so that they can be alert when they see anti-Semitism rise again. To that end, this documentary is utterly timely, and does not shy away from showing the anti-Semitic chants of the neo-nazis in Charlottesville.
THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ has a running time of 78 minutes. It does not yet have a commercial release date in the UK but is playing the UK Jewish Film Festival.
The 22nd UK International Jewish Film Festival takes place between 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow http://ukjewishfilm.org/