The Last of the Unjust

(Le dernier des injustes)
(France, 2013, 220 mins, DCP)
In German, French
Director:
Classification:
Sunday April 27 is Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Claude Lanzmann, whose epic Shoah is certainly the definitive film about the Holocaust, returns to one of the subjects from that masterpiece to unravel the tale of the ‘model’ concentration camp, Theresienstadt, and the ambiguous leader of its Jewish Council, Benjamin Murmelstein.

A former rabbi from Vienna, Murmelstein spent the immediate pre-war years as Adolf Eichmann’s hand-picked representative of Austria’s Jewish community, and claimed to have saved 120,000 Jews from deportation and certain death by helping them escape to the US, Britain and Palestine. Once war began and Murmelstein was sent to the camp, he negotiated on a day-to-day basis with Eichmann over the fate of its inmates.

As Murmelstein puts it, “ they wanted a puppet, but I got to pull some of the strings.” His interviews with Lanzmann are undeniably riveting, as he recounts the realities of life in the camp with complete candor, alternately erudite, cunning and guileless. There are no easy answers here, and it’s hardly surprising that Lanzmann decided it was impossible to shoehorn this fascinating material into Shoah - nor that it should still exert such a pull on him that he has returned to the footage decades later.

Filmography:

Sobibór, 14 octobre 1943, Israel, Why (Doc, 1973), Shoah (Doc, 1985), Tsahal (Doc, 1994), Un vivant qui passe (Doc, 1999) , 16 heures (Doc, 2001)

"A discursive, essential Shoah postscript centered on as fascinating and inconvenient a figure as may have survived Hitler’s annihilation." Michelle Orange, Village Voice

"Those who think this is a black-and-white issue will be surprised, as Lanzmann himself appears to have been, by what is said here." Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Utterly fascinating. A reminder of another way documentaries can be made: simply, agonizingly, without comedy or narcissism, and with unforgettable, almost unbearable power."

Stephen Marche, Esquire