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The Last Days

THE LAST DAYS -- *** 1/2 -- Documentary on five Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust; featuring interviews with Tom Lantos, Renee Firestone, Alice Lok Cahana, Bill Basch, Irene Zisblatt and others; in color and black and white; rated PG-13 (violence, nudity, profanity); exclusively at the Loews Cineplex Broadway Centre Cinemas.Don't be surprised if you find yourself being nicer to your fellow man after seeing "The Last Days."

Such is the power of this Oscar-nominated documentary, which was produced by Steven Spielberg and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust.

And what unfolds during its 90 minutes is one of the most riveting -- and heretofore untold -- stories from World War II. It's a well-told tale of horrors and personal triumph, vividly real and at times almost overwhelming and suffocating.

The subject definitely deserves the powerful treatment it gets here, and with some of the human rights atrocities currently going on in the world, the film's observations bear repeating.

"The Last Days" recounts the Nazis efforts to exterminate European Jews, even as it became clear they were going to lose the war.

Featured are the recollections of five Hungarian Jews who survived the terrifying ordeal: Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif.; Alice Lok Cahana, an artist; Renee Firestone, an educator who works with the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Education Outreach Program; Bill Basch, a businessman; and Irene Zisblatt, a grandmother.

Each tells his or her stories of survival, such as Basch and Lantos recalling their experiences with Swedish humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg (Basch worked for the Zionist underground, while Lantos lived in constant fear in one of Wallenberg's safe houses).

Both Firestone and Zisblatt make tearful and painful visits to the sites of the camps, as well as their childhood homes. Even more compelling is Cahana's heartbreaking search to find out what happened to her sister, from whom she was separated when the two were liberated from the Bergen-Belsen death camp in 1945.

If there is a problem with the film, it's that after a while the audience may begin to feel intrusive (though it's hardly unjustified). Also, because there are so many interesting stories, a couple receive short shrift (Lantos' tales, in particular).

And while the movie never answers the question of why the Holocaust happened in the first place, it proves to be purposeful: The film underscores in each of the interviews that there simply was no reason for such a mindlessly destructive and inhuman act.

"The Last Days" is rated PG-13 for footage of wartime violence and other disturbingly graphic images, full male and female nudity (mostly glimpses of nude corpses) and use of scattered profanities.