Polish resistance fighter and filmmaker Wanda Jakubowska was interned in Auschwitz in 1945 until the arrival of allied forces. In 1948, she produced and directed this incredible document of life in the famous concentration camp, filming it on the camp’s grounds and using former prisoners as actors.
Trainloads of new prisoners are coldly split into groups, half of which are killed immediately and the other half which are to endure life in Auschwitz. Children are birthed and quickly killed in the camps. One woman is chosen as an interpreter due to her ability to speak German, but her entire family is killed on arrival. Polish prisoners acting as guards are depicted as more brutal than the Nazi wardens. Starvation, abuse and a complete and total denial of human dignity are shown as an everyday reality. The film softens the true horrors of the camps, simply for practical reasons. In the words of Jakubowska hereself, “the camp’s reality was human skeletons, piles of dead bodies, lice, rats, and various disgusting diseases. On the screen this reality would certainly cause dread and repulsion. It was necessary to eliminate those elements which, although authentic and typical, were unbearable for the post-war viewer.”
It must have taken incredible courage to participate in making of the film. While certainly not noted, I am positive that the emotional and physical toll on the actors must have been immense. While rarely screened and mostly unavailable in 2011, Ostatni etap is perhaps the best film on the Holocaust yet.
Great article on Ostatni etap here