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February 28, 2014

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 28, 2014 PAGE 11A Lanzmann turns lens on a rabbi who answered to Eichmann By Tom Tugend LOS ANGELES (JTA)-- When French director Claude Lanzmann finished filming and editing his eight-hour epic "Shoah" in 1985, he still had stashed away nearly 11 hours of interviews with one man. The man was Benjamin Murmelstein, the last presi- dent of the Jewish council, or Judenrat, in the There- sienstadt (Terezin) ghetto in Czechoslovakia and the only Nazi-installed "elder of the Jews" not killed during the Holocaust. Compressed into the 3 1/2- hour documentary "The Last of the Unjust," the interviews conducted in 1975 reveal a man then 70 years old who in Lanzmann's estimation was highly intelligent, ironic, did not lie, was hard on others and on himself, and was blessed with total recall. Murmelstein also displayed a sardonic wit, upending the title of Andre Schwarz-Bart's novel "The Last of the Just" into the self-designated "Last of the Unjust," which was adopted by Lanzmann for his film title. The roles played by the members of the Jewish coun- cils in the Nazi-controlled ghettos of Lvov, Warsaw, Vilna and Lodz are still the stuff of debates, books and plays. Were these men stooges who did the dirty work of the Nazis to save their skins and enjoy the illusion of power? Or were they brave, well-meaning individuals who sacrificed themselves in the hope of saving at least some of their fellow Jews? Murmelstein comes across as having had a mixture of motives, hopes and ambitions, though apparently more in- telligent and self-aware than other ghetto leaders. AViennese rabbi and deputy to the Jewish community" president, Murmelstein first met Adolf Eichmann in 1938, after the Nazi takeover of Austria. Eichmann ordered Murm- elstein to organize the forced emigration of Austrian Jews, and even his detractors ac- knowledge Murmelstein's role in helping more than 120,000 of Austria's 200,000 Jews flee the country. Over the next seven years, until the end of the war, the Viennese rabbi and the Nazi Holocaust organizer met and sparred again and again. Mur- melstein may have gotten to know Eichmann better than any other Jewish leader. As such, Murmelsteia de- molishes philosopher Hannah Arendt's portrait of Eichmann as a mere bureaucrat carrying out orders and the personifica- tion of "the banality of evil." In reality, Murmelstein testifies, Eichmann was a "demon"--a thoroughly cor- rupt one at that--who also was a fanatic and violent anti-Semite, participating directly in the burning of Vienna's synagogues during Kristallnacht. Murmelstein lambastes Ejchmann's 1961 trial in Je- rusalem as "a poor trial run by ignorant people," and ap- provingly quotes a newspaper critic on "the banality of Mrs. Arendt's own conclusions." While obviously trying to cast his own role as ghetto elder in as favorable a light as possible, Murmelstein, under sharp questioning, acknowl- edges his own shortcomings. He owns up to enjoying a sense of power and, oddly, even of adventure, as well as to a reputation among his Jewish "subjects" as tough and mean. But mainly he sees himself as a pragmatist among the self-deluded, noting, "If a surgeon starts crying during an operation, the patient dies." In general, Murmelstein holds a high opinion of his importance, arguing, "I had to save myself to save the ghetto." After the war Murmelstein, who held a diplomatic pass- port from the International Committee of the Red Cross, easily could have fled Europe. Instead he chose to remain in Czechoslovakia and stand trial on allegations of collabo- rating with the Nazis. After 18 months in pris- on, he was acquitted of all charges. He died in Rome in 1989 at 84. "The Last of the Unjust" is, above all, a fascinating examination of the human condition in extremis, espe- cially in clinging to hope when every escape seems barred. For example, when Eich- mann and Nazi propaganda Cohen Media Group Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, left, speaks with Benjamin Murmelstein, the subject of "The Last of the Unjust." initially painted Theresien- stadt as a lovely spa that lucky Jews could enjoy if they turned over all their money to the "Eichmann Fund," 40,000 elderly Jews eagerly signed on. In a lengthy interview with Lanzmann featured in the film's production notes, the filmmaker mentions that even Murmelstein, who had no illu- sions about Nazi cruelty and trickery, "said he didn't know about the gas chambers and that's absolutely true." "In Theresienstadt, the Jews were afraid of deporta- tion to the East, but they couldn't imagine the reality of death in the gas chambers," Lanzmann said. Lanzmann illustrates the desperate longing for survival in the ghetto by quoting one inmate, who said, "He who wants to live is condemned to hope." And in words all latter-day analysts of Jewish action and inaction during the Holocaust might take to heart, the film concludes, "The elders of the Jews can be condemned, but they cannot be judged." Presbyterians rail against antiZionist study guide By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Presbyterians who engage in dialogue with Jewish groups are scrambling to undo what they say is the damage caused by a congregational study guide assailing Zionism dis- tributed by a group affiliated with their denomination. The guide, "Zionism Un- settled," posits that the Braeli- Palestinian conflict is fueled by a "pathology inherent in Zionism" and rejects theolo- gies-Christian and Jewish-- that uphold Zionism. Jewish groups expressed outrage at the guide released last month by the Israel/ Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rabbi Steve Gutow, called the guide "worthy of a hate group, not a prominent American church" Presbyterians involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue expressed dismay over the guide in equally strong terms. "This document purports to be about love but it actu- ally expresses demonization, distortion and imbalance," the Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, the president of New York'S Auburn Theologi- cal Seminary, a Presbyterian- affiliated institution, wrote in an statement issued to JTA. Some Presbyterians in- volved in Jewish-Christian dialogue say they are pressing the leadership of their church to renounce the study guide and plan to raise the issue at their mainline Protestant denomination's General As- sembly this summer. The immediate task for members of their church, many Presbyterians reached by JTA said, is to reassure Jews that the guide does not reflect the broader church. "My first response to my friends in the Jewish com- munity with whom I associate on a monthly basis in a Jewish- Presbyterian dialogue group is to assure them that this does not represent even close to a majority opinion," said the Rev. Mike Cole, a Houston-area Presbyterian leader. One factor inhibiting a unified message on the is- sue is the non-hierarchical structure of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The church's official response to the contro- versy has been to reaffirm its support for Israel's existence and a two-state solutionwhile distancing itself from the guide without repudiating it. The church said in a Feb. 13 statement that the Israel/ Palestine Mission Network "speaks to the church and not for the church." "The guide is intended to prompt discussion on the ever-changing and tumultu- ous issue of Israel-Palestine," the statement said. "The IPMN booklet was neither paid for nor publis.hed by the Presby- terian Church (U.S.A.)." But Jewish groups have rejected the church's efforts to disclaim responsibility for the guide. Ethan Felson, a vice presi- dent of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, noted that the Israel/Palestine Mission Network is not a separate tax-exempt group and that the church processes contribu- tions to the network. "They charter IPMN, they speak to IPMN, they speak at the IPMN annual conference, they recommend people get involved in IPMN, they take contributions to IPMN, and when they're challenged, then they say it does not speak for the church," he said, referring to the church leadership. Kathy Francis, the church's communications director, did not respond to an interview request. Jan Armstrong, a Presby- terian church leader in Santa Barbara, Calif., said resolutions advanced by his Presbytery and one in Houston for consider- ation by the General Assembly this summer were more reflec- tive of the broader church. His Presbytery's resolution recommits the church to a negotiated two-state solution and rejects divestment but is not uncritical of Israel, saying that settlement expansion and punitive measures such as withholding tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority "hinder the cause of a demo- cratic Jewish homeland." In an email message from Israel, where he was on a tour, Armstrong said the study guide "is so unrepresentative of the Membership of the PCUSA as to be considered purely propaganda." The Rev. Chris Leighton, a Presbyterian minister and the executive director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, said it was critical for the Jewish community to engage with sympathetic Christians in pUshing back against the guide. "I hope and pray the Jew- ish community leans in rather than backs away from the challenges here," said Leighton, who had published a lengthy open letter to the Presbyterian church on the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies website in which he wrote that the guide "betrays the Church, the truth, and the spirit of reconciliation to which we are called." The "big issue" raised by the study guide, said John Wimberly, a co-convenor of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, "is the desire to elimi- nate Israel as a Jewish state." His grass-roots dialogue group has coordinated with Jewish groups in pushing back against previous efforts within the church targeting Israel. Wimberly said the extreme anti-Zionist position may un- dercut future efforts to push divestment at church General Assemblies by alienating Pres- - byterians. "We've always been dealing with a small group of activists who know how to manipulate the system and intimidate people," he said in an inter- view. "Now that will blow up in their face because very few people share their agenda." The guide explores what it calls "the theological and eth- ical exceptionalism of Jewish and Christian Zionism, which have been sheltered from open debate despite the intolerable human rights abuses rooted in their core beliefs." The guide focuses on the dislocation of Palestinians and only in passing refers to Arab violence against Israel. It also criticizes how Israelis and others relate to the Holocaust, approvingly citing what it describes as calls for an "inclu- sive understanding of the Nazi genocide in contemporary life, so that 'Never again!' applies not only to Jews but to all peoples, including Palestin- ians, and a renunciation of the morally hazardous claims of a hierarchy ofvictimhood." Questions emailed by JTA to Walt Davis, the co-chairman of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network's education commit- tee, went unanswered. The study guide also cites Jewish Voice for Peace, a group allied with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, as representing a "variety" within the Jewish community. Wimberly said this was disingenuous. "They have a valid opinion," he. said of JVP, "but to quote a group like JVP that is small and represents a small num- ber of American Jews and not quote AJC or JCPA is a slap in the face to all of the working relationships we have at the grass roots." But Rebecca Vilkomerson, JVP's executive director, de- fended the guide, describing it as "not perfect" but a "good faith" effort. "Clearly this curriculum has a point of vie, and they are promoting Jewish voices in line with perspectives they are presenting," she said, add- ing, "More mainstream voices around Zionism are extremely easy to access. This guide helps redress that imbalance." The church's official state- ment distancing itself from the guide also cites JVP. It quotes the group's advocacy director, Sydney Levy, saying, "We are in opposition to the settlements and occupation, and in favor of a true and just peace." The JVP staffer is the only Jewish person quoted in the church statement. - ",Y- ' -6 . Custom Print Marketing Invitations & Announcements Digital & Offset Printing Brochures & Booklets Direct Mail Serces Forms 8- Letterheads Envelopes 407-767-7110 .esC '-i 205 North Stet- Long--i, FL 32750-  ww, elegantprinting, net - Mention This Ad and Receive 18% Discount 5,