The last remaining World War II Nazis are living comfortably at home in Germany, leading normal lives and, in some instances, are still proud of their participation in one of world history’s biggest atrocities.
In the chilling new documentary “Final Account,” out Friday, British director Luke Holland, whose grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, interviewed several former Nazis about their memories of the murderous Third Reich. It took him 10 years to track his elderly subjects down and capture them on film. And Holland himself died in June shortly after completing his movie.
Deemed functionaries rather than war criminals by the German government, these former medics, SS officers and concentration camp guards were able to return to their communities after World War II as if nothing had happened.
For many of them, “nothing” is the operative word today.
“The majority of those under Naziism said after the war, again and again, firstly ‘I didn’t know,’ secondly ‘I didn’t take part,’ and thirdly, ‘If I had known, I would have acted differently,’ ” Klaus Kleinau, a remorseful member of the Waffen-SS, the military branch of the SS, said in the doc.
Kleinau believes this to be a widespread delusion. “Everybody tries to distance themselves from the massacres committed under Naziism, especially those of the final years. And that’s why so many said: ‘I wasn’t a Nazi.’ ”
The interviewees mostly began their participation with the Nazis when they joined the Jungvolk, a mandatory program for boys between the ages of 10 and 14. After that, they advanced to Hitler Youth or the female equivalent, the League of German Girls.
A few looked back fondly on those days, like they were at a happy summer camp.
“This is my Hitler Youth membership card,” said Hans Werk, who eventually became part of the Waffen-SS. “I joined the Jungvolk at the age of 10 and received this. I joined on the 1st of May 1937. Even before I was 10 years old. I couldn’t wait.”
An unnamed woman added: “We didn’t support the party. But we liked the uniform. We went along with it, because we enjoyed it — putting on the uniform and going on marches.”
But the innocence was a ruse. From a young age, they were being taught to hate.
“We learned to read with the normal alphabet book, but we also had a Jew-themed alphabet book,” Werk said. “It had a caricature of a Jew for each letter. I remember one in particular: a butcher’s shop that was really greasy and filthy. A disgusting Jew with dirty long hair and a hat, behind the counter. Next to him, a blond German girl with a white apron. He had his hand where it shouldn’t be.”
Although many subjects expressed shame for their role in the Holocaust, others have no regrets at all. When one anonymous man remembered calling guards from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to bring back escaped Jewish prisoners who were hiding in his farm’s pigsty, he laughed.
Asked if he still “honors” Adolf Hitler, Karl Hollander, a former SS lieutenant who kept his swastika badges, said, “I still do. The idea was correct … I don’t share the opinion that they should be murdered. They should have been driven out to another country where they could rule themselves. This would have saved a great deal of grief.”
Kurt Sametreiter of the SS also stood his ground.
“The Waffen-SS had nothing to do with the terrible and brutal treatment of Jews and dissidents and the concentration camp,” said Sametreiter. “We were front-line soldiers … I have no regrets, and I will never regret being with that unit. Truly not. A camaraderie like that … You could rely on every man 100%. There was nothing that could go wrong. That was the beauty of it.”
When asked if 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, Sametreiter denied it.
“That’s a joke,” he said. “I don’t believe it. I will not believe it. It can’t be. Today they say — ‘Excuse me, but it’s the Jew who puts it like that.’ The scale that is claimed today, I deny that, too. I deny it. It didn’t happen.”