web analytics
October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » Sections » Arts »

The Last of the Unjust


The Last of the Unjust (2013), documentary film by Claude Lanzmann
Lanzmann and Benjamin Murmelstein (right side) in Rome. Courtesy Synecdoche & Le Pacte Films

The Last of the Unjust (2013), documentary film by Claude Lanzmann Lanzmann and Benjamin Murmelstein (right side) in Rome. Courtesy Synecdoche & Le Pacte Films

The Last of the Unjust, a film by Claude Lanzmann (2013)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway @ 63rd Street, NYC

The horror…the horror does not dissipate even after 69 years.  Benjamin Murmelstein was the last “Elder of the Jews” of Theresienstadt and in many hours of revealing interviews his story unfolds under the watchful eye of master documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann in “The Last of the Unjust.”   The movie confronts the terrible compromised reality of Jewish leaders under Nazi rule.  Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.  Many committed suicide or were murdered by their Nazi masters.  Murmelstein survived.  This is testimony from an infuriating universe of shifting grays where the clarity of black and white morality is impossible.

Lanzmann interviewed Murmelstein in exile in Rome in 1975 just as he was beginning work on his epic 9 ½ hour documentary, “Shoah” (released in 1985).  It was clear that as the only leader of a major Jewish community to survive the war, Murmelstein would have invaluable insights into the pernicious process of mass murder.  And yet his story did not fit well with the “unremitting tragedy” exposed in “Shoah.”  As an accused collaborator (exonerated in a Czech trial) the tone of his story was very different – compromised, complex and troubling.  It waited 33 years to be told.

The narrative of Theresienstadt, the faux concentration camp set up to hide the murderous reality of the Holocaust from the world, serves as an introduction to Murmelstein’s earlier role as communal leader in Vienna where he was forced to cooperate with Adolf Eichmann in the deportation of the Jews to ghettos and concentration camps.  At each step in the horrific history Murmelstein’s role is examined, questioned and exposed in the interviews.  He defines himself as “the last of the unjust,” “a Jew in exile” in Italy out of fear of assassination in Israel, acknowledging his guilt even as he justifies his actions.  As Lanzmann observes that most Jewish leaders were “caught up in some savage contradictions,” so too Murmelstein pleads that at the end of the day all such leaders were martyrs; only remember that “not all martyrs are saints.”

The movie covers myriad aspects of the Holocaust through the eyes of one who was in many ways at the heart of it.  Murmelstein is credited with saving 121,000 Viennese Jews, fighting bitterly with Eichmann.  He saw his role of cooperation as essential to saving as many Jewish lives as possible, and, once in Theresienstadt, with keeping the camp open at all costs for the same purpose.  He claims that they didn’t know the reality of Auschwitz as a death camp until late in 1944.

The last minutes of the interviews take place in Rome walking around the Arch of Titus, tragic testament to the destruction of the Second Temple. The historical parallel between this ancient place of Jewish memory and this witness, martyr and collaborator to contemporary Jewish tragedy is overwhelming.   Murmelstein is now defensive, argumentative, accusing his detractors of cruel injustice.  He finally admits, “elders (like him) can be condemned, but not judged…”  Murmelstein died in Rome in 1989.  We cannot afford to turn away from the horror this three and a half hour film presents.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Last of the Unjust”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Do you know where your vegetables grow?
Not So Kosher Shemittah L’Mehadrin
Latest Sections Stories
Nimchinsky-102414-Flag

This past summer was a powerful one for the Jewish people. I will always remember where I was on June 12th when I found out that Gilad, Eyal and Naftali were kidnapped. I will always remember the look on my sister’s face on June 30th when she told me that they were found. I will […]

Schonfeld-logo1

Avromi often put other people’s interests before his own: he would not defend people whom he believed were guilty (even if they were willing to pay him a lot of money).

Kupfer-102414

The Presbyterian Church USA voted to divest from three companies that do business with Israel.

How can I help my wife learn to say “no,” and understand that her first priority must be her husband and family?

My eyes skimmed an article on page 1A. I was flabbergasted. I read the title again. Could it be? It had good news for the Miami Jewish community.

Students in early childhood, elementary, and middle school were treated to an array of hands-on projects to create sukkah decorations such as wind chimes, velvet posters, sand art, paper chains, and more.

It is important for a therapist to focus on a person’s strengths as a way of overcoming his or her difficulties.

Sadly, there are mothers who, due to severe depression are unable or unwilling to prepare nourishing food for their children.

Michal had never been away from home. And now, she was going so far away, for so long – an entire year!

Though if you do have a schach mat, you’ll realize that it cannot actually support the weight of the water.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/the-last-of-the-unjust/2014/02/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: