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To most of us who grew up during the Nazi occupation of Poland, names like Auschwitz and Dachau, though horrible enough, were very distant; to the children of the same generation in Poland, they were a close and terrifying reality.
"The Last Stop" is a film, made in Poland with Auschwitz itself for a set, telling the story of the German prosecution of 4,500,000 Poles. Of course, the picture is grim-probably more grim than any other of the war narratives; but, in the endurance and faith of the group of Polish women portrayed, even the worst of horrors are obscured. You can't leave the theater without thinking that what might have been an ordinary documentary film has been converted into an exceptionally fine drama.
Wanda Jakubowska, the director, was a prisoner at Auschwitz during the reign of terror. She saw the queues of Jewesses waiting for the crematorium, the old women left to die in the mud, and the bones of the murdered babies. From her previous experience before the war with Film Polski, she acquired the talent for realistic sets and atmosphere. The synthesis, "The Last Stop," is her masterpiece.
The subtlety with which she shrouds the butchery is Mme. Jakubowska's greatest achievement. A Nazi officer killing a child whistles unconcernedly throughout; another SS man calmly plays the gramophone while his henchmen single their victim's flesh with hot pokers. Probably most effective and certainly most pathetic are the scenes showing the girl who was chosen to lead the band as it played the rhythms to which the whole camp marched; during all the thousand crimes which the Nazis committed to the tune of her music, she had to stand alone on her bandstand without flinching.
With all this, the acting was very good. Helen Drohocka, as the phlegmatic women doctor, and Wanda Bertowna, as the pretty interpreter, led the east. But the picture was a group effort, as far as the acting went, and no single performance dwarfed any of the others. Certainly from the ranks of the Polish actors in this film will come some of the top artists in the foreign film business during the next few years.
Polish movies are rare things in Boston and no people can tell better than the Poles the accounts of German atrocities in the last war. You won't be able to pick up much of the Polish parts in the dialogue, but even without the words you'll be able to feel the strong sentiments of pathos and tragedy that mark such a universally odious subject.
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