Ostatni etap (The Last Stage) (1948) 





Director:   Wanda Jakubowska.

Starring:  Tatjana Gorecka (Eugenia, doctor-prisoner), Antonina Gorecka (Anna, nurse-prisoner), Barbara Drapinska (Marta Weiss), Aleksandra Slaska (Superintendent of the Women's Block), Barbara Rachwalska (Elza), Wlad. Brochwicz (Commandant of Auschwitz), Edward Dziewonski (Auschwitz Medical Officer), Kazimierz Pawlowski (Gestapo Chief), Alina Janowska (Dessa, nurse-prisoner), Mariya Vinogradova (Nadja, a nursing aide), Stanislaw Zaczyk (Tadek), Stefan Srdka (Bronek), Janina Morriswna (Deputy superintendent of the Women's Block), Wanda Bartwna (Helene, a teenage prisoner), Anna Redlichowna (Urszula, a teenage prisoner), Halina Drohocka (Lalunia, replacement 'doctor'), Barbara Fijewska (Anielka, replacement 'nurse').

a Polish woman's experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

4.5 million people were murdered by the Germans at the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Scene at Auschwitz.  A woman who is about to give birth falls in formation.  She is quickly forced to stand up again by the camp guards.  Because she fell down her whole block has to stand after the other blocks have been dismissed.  The woman falls again.  She is taken to the inmate "hospital" where she gives birth to a child.   

Another train arrives at the concentration camp.  They are unloaded from the train and have to hand over their belongings.  They are then divided into women and men.  Among the women Marta Weiss is chosen as an interpreter.  The women's hair is cut and all their valuables are taken.  Each woman has to roll up her left sleeve and have a prisoner number tattooed on it.  Marta sees the crematoria and asks about them.  Her guide tells her the entire truth, including the fact that her family has been gassed already. 

The Nazi chief medical officer comes into the hospital and wants to see the mother of the new-born.  Chief medical doctor Eugenia and the staff tell the officer that the woman died in child birth (pointing to a recently deceased inmate) and that the baby is perfectly healthy.  But the Nazi chief medical officer says that he will be the one to determine the health of the baby.  He takes the baby, writes out a death certificate (saying death by heart failure) and injects the baby with some toxin.

The administrators of the camp meet to discuss the new gas chamber that will process 1,200 victims at a time.  The target goal is to handle 5,000 people daily.  The top female administrator is Oberaufseherin.  The Jewish women are called for roll-call.  The talk is that they will be going to the gas chambers.  Trucks come into the camp and the women are forced to get on them.  They are then driven away. 

A new group of women arrives in camp.  Two women sing a song while they are walking.  The camp commander selects one of them and kills her with his pistol. 

In the barracks, there is singing and dancing over the news that the Germans have been decisively defeated at Stalingrad.  Male inmates talk with Eugenia and her staff asking them to supply the men with information. 

An international commission is coming to take a look at Auschwitz.  The administrators of the camp are told to make sure that they make the place look as if nothing bad was going on at Auschwitz.  The German guides for the international commissioners put the best face on the camp, but Eugenia speaks out and tells the commissioners that millions of men, women and children have been killed at Auschwitz.  For this, the Germans torture Eugenia to death.  Eugenia is replaced as the chief medical doctor by the German-approved, corrupt and incompetent Lalunia.  Lalunia takes the medicine meant for the inmates and gives it to her guard friends. 

Soviet Union women soldiers are brought to Auschwitz.  The women demand that the camp commander move them to a P.O.W. camp, but the commander says that they have no P.OW. camp.  Auschwitz will have to do.  Soon representatives for the Soviet women soldiers meet with the key group representing the inmates and they start organizing a plan of residence.  The  women are given different assignments.  A newsletter is written in Lalunia's room and then distributed through the camp to the inmates. 

Anna, a nurse-prisoner, is so disgusted with Lalunia that she goes through Lalunia's room looking for the missing medicines.  The search yields some of the missing medicines.  Lalunia is very upset by this.  After Anna leaves, Lalunia finds a crumpled piece of paper with a draft of the newsletter.  She gives the note to the guard Elza who has been itching for a confrontation with inmate nurse Anna.  Anna is soon told that Elza wants to speak to her.  The camp commander then takes Anna with him to be tortured.  Before Anna is put in the car she is able to tell one of her fellow inmates that there is a spy in the hospital. 

The inmates learn that the German plan to destroy Auschwitz.  The estimate is that it will take just five days to destroy all the remaining inmates.  Marta Weiss is given a copy of the destruction plan to sneak out to the outside.  Another inmate, Tadek, who Marta loves, is also given a copy of the plan.  They are to deliver the plan to the same place.  It is hoped that at least one of them will get through.  Both Marta and Tadek get through to their destination.  They then head back to the camp. 

Over Allied channels, the Germans hear the radio announcement that the Germans are planning to destroy Auschwitz and advises the Germans not to take this step.  The camp commander of Auschwitz is now in trouble with his boss, who reads him the riot act over the disclosure of the camp destruction plan.  The camp commander returns to Auschwitz to get matter under control.  As he looks at the women inmates all on their knees in the mud with hands up, he recognizes that the top Soviet soldier is among them.  The commander demands that she come to the front.  She does so and the commander kills her with his pistol. 

Both Tadek and Marta have been captured.  Tadek is tortured.  Marta is sent to the gallows.  The camp commander wants to make an example of Marta.  But the inmate executioner cuts her ropes around her hands and she delivers some defiant words about the Russians being near.  The camp commander climbs the steps to make sure she is hanged, but Marta pushes him off the steps.  At this moment Soviet planes fly over Auschwitz and the Germans and inmates run for cover.  Marta tells a fellow inmate that they must make sure that Auschwitz will never be revived again.  


Pretty good movie, but with some real problems.  The biggest problem is that the English subtitles are filled with all kinds of horrible mistakes, including spelling and grammar.  The other problem is that the subtitles flash too fast across the screen.  You have to use the pause button to be able to read an entire subtitle.  There is also a big delay between the spoken sentence and the subtitle translation.  Another problem is that there are too many characters.  The main character is Marta Weiss, but she is not really given that much time on screen.  It is hard to identify with any of the characters because no one or two characters get that much play in the movie.  On the good side, the movie gives the viewer a little taste of how terrible a place was Auschwitz and the Nazi officers, soldiers and inmate guards who ran it.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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