In just a few months, World War II would be over in Europe. Yet for millions of Europeans, December 1944 was still a time of intense hardship and uncertainty. For many, peace seemed further away than ever, suffering widespread, despair rampant.
Christmas is a time of peace and love. But never was the message of "Peace on Earth" invoked with more fervour and hope than at Christmastime 1944. Criss-crossing Europe on this last holiday season before the end of the war, this one-hour documentary conceived by Guido Knopp for ZDF Enterprises spotlights various scenarios of suffering and celebration.
That this feast day could bear even a tiny message of peace is related in one episode set in the Ardennes. When American and German troops come face to face, a courageous peasant woman forces them to lay down their arms and forget the war for a few hours... Singing Christmas carols in English and German, the soldiers celebrate their own private armistice.
At the Flossenbürg concentration camp, no one can forget the war. Six prisoners are caught trying to escape and hanged in front of a huge Christmas tree, as the other prisoners are forced to look on. Two survivors tell of their horrifying experience.
In Budapest, the arrival of the Red Army triggers fierce resistance among the German troops, while the Red Cross and the Vatican desperately try to save dozens of Jewish children in an abandoned orphanage. Only in France is Christmas 1944 a time of peace and hope, for the country has been liberated. The first wave of revenge against collaborators is over and the whole country seems to feel the spirit of a new beginning.
With eyewitness interviews, re-enactments and rare private footage, "The Last Christmas – December 1944" grippingly captures the surreal atmosphere of this holiday season, with its unique mixture of hope and doom.