Starring: Hedy John, Bill Glied, Benjamin Ferencz
Director: Matthew Shoychet
Running Time: 78 mins
The Accountant Of Auschwitz is a Canadian documentary centring on the trial of 93-year old Oskar Gröning, former bookkeeper at the infamous Auschwitz extermination camp, and the efforts of activists and lawmakers to put right decades of injustice in which Nazi war criminals were largely acquitted of their crimes against humanity.
While the horrors of the Holocaust and the terrors of its most infamous concentration camp have made for a devastating and enthralling subject matter over the years, The Accountant Of Auschwitz opens the discussion wider, taking an eye-opening look at the often underfocused aftermath of the Second World War.
Centring on the inabilities or even failures of lawmakers in the immediate postwar period to commit the immense number of Nazi war criminals to justice, The Accountant Of Auschwitz is a film about a lot more than just one trial, going deep into a part of modern history that most of us would have thought had been fully resolved by now.
Now, there are elements of this film as a documentary and persuasive piece that often don’t work in quite such riveting or convincing fashion, but I’ll get to those in a moment. First and foremost, however, the real value of The Accountant Of Auschwitz is just how much analysis there is on the events of the postwar trials, and the long-term consequences of a number of its failings.
Key to the film’s discussion is the idea of setting precedent in order to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the Holocaust. More than the emphasis of the phrase ‘never again’, the documentary goes through a number of significant cases in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals since the end of the Second World War, and establishes how the approach of previous investigators and judges failed to establish a legal precedent against such horrific crimes.
Now, where the film becomes most persuasive – albeit not entirely convincing – is in its demonstration of how the legal approach to convicting former Nazis should change, and largely has changed in the case against Oskar Gröning.
Focusing on the idea that being complicit in any part of the running of a concentration camp means automatic guilt of war crimes in the eyes of the law, the film uses a number of witnesses’ testimonies and historians and lawyers’ analyses to reinforce its key point, with its criticisms of past legal approaches that required proof of active involvement in mass murder further backing up the argument.
In that, The Accountant Of Auschwitz proves a riveting portrayal of the changing nature of Nazi prosecutions in the postwar period, and sets itself up in a very persuasive manner with regards to how legal cases should have been carried out, and must be carried out in the future.
However, as undeniably fascinating and eye-opening a documentary as this is, the one thing it really lacks is a good balance in its discussion.
Now, I’m not looking for arguments that are in any way pro-Nazi, and I think the film is often a little scared of going off its main course for fear of accidentally sympathising with the people it is rightly demonising.
But having balance and differing views is one of the most fundamental necessities for any good discussion, because it can very easily turn into what feels like aggressive propaganda. Fortunately, The Accountant Of Auschwitz uses enough historical data and fact in its argument that it doesn’t come across in any way like aggressive propaganda, but the lack of opposing opinions to its view of how the law should approach prosecutions is very, very noticeable.
With the exception of one interviewee, who appears briefly about two or three times on screen, almost everything about the film is purely centred on further enforcing why its own view of the law is correct, and that really hurts it at times when I wanted to see it as a truly great argumentative documentary.
Overall, The Accountant Of Auschwitz is an undeniably good film. Fascinating, insightful and often eye-opening, it expands so much on what most of us come to think of as the Nazis and the Holocaust, and makes for truly enthralling viewing throughout. However, much like the equally exhilarating Blackfish, as good a documentary as this is, it lacks the argumentative balance to prove entirely convincing, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9.