This week on TV

Claude Lanzmann’s latest, and blue-and-white Independence Day films.

‘What in the World?’ The ‘What in the World?’ archeology TV series aired on CBS in the 1950s. (photo credit: COURTESY ISLAMIC MUSEUM)
‘What in the World?’ The ‘What in the World?’ archeology TV series aired on CBS in the 1950s.
Claude Lanzmann, now in his late 80s, is the most celebrated director of documentaries on the Holocaust (including Shoah, one of the most acclaimed documentaries of all time). His most recent film, The Last of the Unjust, will be shown on Channel 1 in two parts. The first will be aired on April 23 at 9 p.m., and the second on April 27 at 9:30 p.m. It will be shown as part of the True Story series. It will also be available in HD on Channel 511.
The four-hour film, which is primarily in French and German with Hebrew titles, is about an extremely controversial figure, Bernard Murmelstein, the third and last “Jewish elder” appointed by the Nazis to run the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia. He was accused by many of having been a collaborator. Noted scholar Gershom Scholem went so far as to call for Murmelstein to be hanged. But Lanzmann saw a man he found admirable in many ways when he met Murmelstein in Rome in 1975 and interviewed him. That interview forms the core of the film. The Last of the Unjust presents Murmelstein as a man who was damned whatever he did but who did his best to help as many Jews as he could. It’s Murmelstein himself who uses the phrase “last of the unjust” to describe himself, although it’s not clear exactly how much he uses this term ironically.
The interview and archival footage of Theresienstadt make for fascinating viewing. Murmelstein, who was one of the chief rabbis in Vienna at the start of the war, had contact with Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Final Solution.
Murmelstein denies Hannah Arendt’s famous characterization of Eichmann as the embodiment of “the banality of evil.” Instead, he describes Eichmann as corrupt and violent, a man who enjoyed profiting financially from robbing the Jews he forced into concentration camps.
Murmelstein speaks proudly of using the power he was given to save lives, including arranging for more than 100,000 Jews to escape to Palestine and other countries.
At one point, Lanzmann asks how Murmelstein can be so calm while recounting the horrors of the war – thousands died at Theresienstadt of disease and starvation. Murmelstein responds, “If a surgeon starts crying over his patient on the operating table, he kills him.” Murmelstein saw it as his mission to bear witness.
This year’s Best Picture Oscar winner was 12 Years a Slave, and tonight you can see another, very different film about the same period, Quentin Tarantino’s Oscarwinning Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Christoph Waltz in a violent and irreverent drama. It airs at 10 p.m. on HOT ACTION HD.
YES VOD is featuring a special week of Israeli films ahead of Independence Day, from April 29 to May 5. There will be several of the most acclaimed feature films from the last few years, including the recent hit films Bethlehem by Yuval Adler, which won the Ophir Award for Best Picture, about Israeli intelligence officers and Palestinians; and Reshef Levy’s Hunting Elephants, a caper film about a Jerusalem boy who gets involved in planning a bank robbery with his grandfather and several cronies, including one played by Patrick Stewart. Eran Kolirin’s 2007 The Band’s Visit is a particularly enjoyable film and will play well on the small screen.
In keeping with tradition, YES will also show a number of Israeli comedy classics during this week, including Uri Zohar’s Peeping Toms, which stars Zohar and Arik Einstein; Operation Grandma, Dror Shaul’s black comedy about three brothers on a kibbutz whose grandmother dies at a very chaotic moment in all their lives; and Assi Dayan’s musical Shlagger.
Israeli documentaries have been especially strong in recent years, and several of the best ones will be shown as well, including Ron Tal’s Gan Eden, about a national park and the cross-section of Israelis who use it; Ichilov, a documentary about five young doctors; and A Match Made in Heaven, about dating in the haredi world.
There will also be a selection of songs and other special programming for young children.