TV, films to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day

This international event is held on the anniversary of the day the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, and should not be confused with Yom Hashoah, Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day.

 'Defiance.' (photo credit: YES)
'Defiance.'
(photo credit: YES)

A number of special programs on television and in movie theaters will be held in the coming week to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. 

This international event is held on the anniversary of the day the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, and should not be confused with Yom Hashoah, Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day, which takes place in the spring.

One of the highlights of the programming will be the television premiere of Vanessa Lapa’s acclaimed documentary, Speer Goes to Hollywood, which will be shown on Yes Docu on January 26 at 9 p.m. and Yes VOD and Sting TV. This movie, which premiered nearly two years ago at the Berlin International Film Festival, has won a number of awards all over the world and received the Ophir Award for Best Documentary in 2021. 

It tells a strange story of how Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, who managed to create a second act for himself following his release from Spandau Prison as a bestselling author of memoirs about the Third Reich, tried to turn his wartime story into a major motion picture. Collaborating with a young screenwriter, Andrew Birkin, who was hired by Paramount Pictures in the early ’70s to turn one of his memoirs into a film, he seems to have been completely convinced that his life could be fodder for a big-budget Hollywood movie. 

Birkin has contacted me and a number of other journalists and news outlets following the release of the film to say that he feels he was misrepresented in the documentary. The audiotapes he made were rerecorded by actors, which Lapa has said was due to the poor quality of the original tapes. Birkin said she did this because he did not give permission for them to be used and that the rerecorded tapes misrepresent what he said.

 'The Pianist.' (credit: YES) 'The Pianist.' (credit: YES)

Neither side is currently taking legal action. But this dispute does not change the fact that Paramount Pictures was eager to develop one of Speer’s books into a movie and sent Birkin to work with him, fewer than 30 years after the Holocaust.

The documentary reminds us how widely accepted was Speer’s carefully shaped myth that he was the so-called “good Nazi,” a technocrat who had no idea about the mass killings and abuse of his own laborers, in the years following his release from prison. 

Birkin – whose sister, Jane Birkin, was romantically involved at the time with French-Jewish singer Serge Gainsbourg – tries to get Speer discuss the death camps and his responsibility for 12 million slave laborers who worked for the Nazi war machine. Speer seems utterly oblivious to the fact that his Nazi past might get in the way of his movie dreams.

In addition, on January 27, Yes Drama will show the feature film The Pianist, for which Roman Polanski won an Oscar for Best Director and Adrien Brody won the Best Actor Oscar. The movie is based on the autobiographical account by Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman of how he survived in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. 

Hot 8 is showing David Fisher’s documentary The Round Number on January 27 at 9 p.m., and it will also be available on Hot VOD. When I first read about this film, which investigates how historians arrived at the number of six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust so quickly after the end of the war, I wondered why the director thought it necessary to look into this question. 

But I found the film unexpectedly fascinating. Fisher, the son of Holocaust survivors, whose childhood was colored by their trauma and grief, is interested in the meaning and legacy of the Holocaust. He uses the quest to look at this number as a way to examine the historical tragedy more deeply.

While Fisher acknowledges that there were millions of victims, he interviews historians who discuss how this figure was arrived at so quickly following the war and how a Holocaust victim is defined. He asks, for example, whether concentration-camp survivors who committed suicide after the war should be counted in the total, as well as whether those who died from chronic illnesses they contracted in the camps after the liberation are relevant to the question.

Some historians in the film point out that it is not true that the Nazis always kept comprehensive and accurate records of their victims, particularly when it came to killings committed outside of the death camps. The total may actually be higher than six million, several historians say in this thought-provoking film.

Starting on January 23, Cellcom TV will be showing Final Account, a documentary by Luke Holland that features interviews with surviving Nazis and those who worked for Nazis. It is chilling to hear most of them insisting that they did not know the extent of the killings, particularly because several of them were SS officers. 

You might think that now that they are elderly and seem to have little to lose by speaking frankly that they would be truthful, but most of them cling to the excuses we have heard so many times before. When one man takes responsibility for what he did and speaks to a group of young neo-Nazis, trying to convince them that what the Nazis did was wrong, it is disheartening to see how little they pay attention to his words. 

The Tel Aviv Cinematheque (cinema.co.il) will have an extensive program that runs from January 25-28. It features some new films about the Holocaust, as well as older films that are rarely shown. Many of these films will be shown in the presence of the filmmakers and will feature lectures to put the movies in context. 

There will be a preview screening of Matti Geschonneck’s The Conference, a dramatized account of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, in which the plan for the “Final Solution” was put forward by Adolf Eichmann and discussed and accepted by other Nazi officials. It is 80 years this month since the conference took place and the release of this film was timed to mark that anniversary. Johannes Allmayer portrays Eichmann. 

The Royal Game, an adaptation of a Stefan Zweig novel directed by Philipp Stolzl, will also be shown in a preview screening. It is a disturbing and powerful movie that tells the story of an Austrian arrested by the Nazis in Vienna just after they take power, who is then kept in isolation for years. Only a book on chess, which he manages to smuggle into his room, provides him with enough mental stimulation to allow him to preserve a shred of sanity. 

The Passenger, a 1963 film by Andrzej Munk that will be shown in a screening sponsored by the Polish Institute in Israel, tells the story of a former concentration camp guard who meets a camp inmate she remembers, while aboard a ship following the war. This was one of the first movies to dramatize the horrors of the death camps. 

The Collini Case, directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner, was released in 2021 and it is about a seemingly inexplicable murder in modern-day Germany. A prosecutor investigates and learns it was motivated by a Nazi-killing during World War II. It was adapted from Ferdinand von Shirach’s bestselling novel, which led to a discussion in Germany about the light sentences many Nazis received after the war. 

One of the documentaries in this program is about 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Shraga Milstein, who tells his story. 

Bobby Lax’s documentary, Back in Berlin, is about how, after his father passes away in Britain, he discovers a suitcase filled with documents that reveal the story of his family and how they were killed in the Holocaust. With a childhood friend who also has a painful story connected to the Holocaust in his past, he travels to Berlin to investigate the truth about his family. 

Back in Berlin will also be shown at the Jerusalem Cinematheque (https://jer-cin.org.il/en) on January 26. On January 23, the Jerusalem Cinematheque will present Shoshi Ben-Hemo’s documentary, Recognition, about Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, which will be followed by a discussion featuring academics and other experts. 

On January 27, Edward Zwick’s Defiance, a feature film that tells the story of the Bielski brothers, who built a community in the Belarusian forest to shelter Jews and fought with the resistance, will be shown at the cinematheque. The rousing film stars Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell. 

Ludi Boeken’s new film, The Last Picture Show in Bucharest, about a Romanian-born deserter from the Israeli army who returns to Bucharest to take revenge on those who murdered his family during World War II, was set to open on January 27, but its release was postponed due to the pandemic. It should be hitting theaters soon once this wave subsides.