Reviews of Polish Movies on DVD 1940-1949 by Richard J. Brzostek

The Last Stage (Ostatni Etap) (1948)

Director: Wanda Jakubowska;

The Last Stage (Ostatni Etap) is about the women who were interned at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. Although men were also imprisoned there, this story is mostly about the women. People from all over Europe (including France, Hungry, Poland and Russia) were caged and killed at this camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Some were imprisoned for political reasons and others for simply being a Pole or a Jew. The story is based on the actual experiences of the director (Wanda Jakubowska) and was shot on location just three years after the war, which gives it a feeling of practically being a recreation of the atrocity.

Although we get to know a group of women, one that stands out is Martha Weiss. She is a young Jewish woman that is spared the same fate as her family because she ends up working for the Germans as an interpreter. Those who have a skill useful to the Nazis are spared leaving the camp though the smoke of the chimney. Martha and her friends make the best of their grim situation and are courageous in their acts of defiance.

With their survival threatened, not all of the prisoners are quite so noble. Some of the prisoners work as assistants for the guards to help them do their dirty work. In return, they get a few extra comforts and their own deaths are delayed.

The Last Stage captures the feeling of what it was like at Auschwitz, which is at times surreal with an orchestra of prisoners playing classical music out in the open air while the other prisoners are abused and degraded by their captors.

Ostatni Etap is a classic Polish movie; in Poland, it is in the top 20 of all time box office hits of Polish cinema. The Last Stage depicts a disturbing part of history, but it is better to know what really happened during World War II than it is to pretend it never did, which is why I would recommend everyone to watch this movie.



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