Ostatni etap (1948)

LAST STAGE, THE (Ostatni etap) (aka: LAST STOP, THE)

(director/writer: Wanda Jakubowska; screenwriter: Gerda Schneider; cinematographer: Bentsion Monastyrsky; music: Roman Palester; cast: Wanda Bartówna (Helene, a teenage prisoner), Hugette Faget (Michele, French prisoner), Alina Janowska (Dessa, nurse-prisoner), Aleksandra Slaska (Superintendent of the Women’s Block), Edward Dziewonski (Auschwitz Medical Officer), Zofia Mrozowska (Gypsy prisoner), Barbara Drapinska (Marta Weiss), Tatjana Gorecka (Eugenia, doctor-prisoner); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wanda Jakubowska; POLart Distribution Inc.; 1948-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles))
“One of the most devastating and overlooked of the Holocaust films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the most devastating and overlooked of the Holocaust films. What adds to its power is its immediacy; it was filmed shortly after the concentration camps were liberated (using Polish actors and camp survivors, who offer a realistic re-enactment of recorded events). It starkly calls attention to the the horror revealed of 4,500,000 inmates exterminated in just Auschwitz alone–something that still hadn’t completely sunk in. It’s filmed on location in the German concentration camp of Auschwitz (located in Poland) and chronicles the miserable fate of the female inmates. It’s based on the actual experiences of film director and cowriter Wanda Jakubowska, a survivor of the camp. She said thinking about documenting the experience helped her survive.

Bleak, uncompromising and harrowing, it covers the camp from the day newcomers arrive and get tattoos of a number on their arm and are warned to just follow orders, and then goes into their systematized torture and their deaths at the hands of the Nazis.

The dramatic story tells of an “underground” cell operating inside the dispensary, in the women’s camp. A middle-aged Russian woman doctor (Tatjana Gorecka, a renown Soviet actress), an inmate of the camp, bravely tries to treat and rally the inmates until she is killed.

The main story is about the daily brutality from the piggish guards and the despairing inhumanity of the place, and the prisoners led to their death in the gas chambers. It’s gruesome to see the butchers murder a baby born in the camp, the inmates beaten in the prison yard while an inmate band is forced to play cheerful music and the unforgettable sight of children being marched to the death ovens.

As an historical record, the film is invaluable. As a reminder of mankind’s darkest hours, this film offers graphic proof of how low humanity can stoop in its barbarism. It’s a very tough watch, but is essential viewing for those who know and those who still don’t know about the Holocaust.