During the last 6 months I have watched four exceptional documentaries, all with connections to the Holocaust. Three of these documentaries, Remembering the Holocaust: Defiant Requiem (2013), The Last of the Unjust (2013), and The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (2014), have the concentration camp in the Czech town of Terezin (Theresienstadt in German) as their focus. The fourth film The Flat (2011, HaDirah in Hebrew) moves between Tel Aviv and Germany. All of these films will take your breath away; they are moving and painful in their portrayal of the complexity of the human spirit.
These films are available on Netflix. The Flat is available at Black Dog Video and at Limelight Video.
Defiant Requiem is a masterpiece, the inspiration of Murry Sidlin, a veteran American conductor who stumbled upon a book which would take him on a long journey of discovery. This haunting documentary is about Jewish conductor Rafael Schachter who formed a secret choir in the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin during the Second World War. It is also about the modern re-creation of the choir’s last performance before the International Red Cross and SS officers; also to be held in Terezin. The music of Verdi’s Requiem Mass pervades the film. Survivors of the camp tell their stories. For the viewer the experience is overwhelming.
The Last of the Unjust: a documentary by Claude Lanzmann which features Benjamin Murmelstein, Elder of the Jews at Terezin in 1944. No character that you see onscreen this year will match the impact that is made by Benjamin Murmelstein, who dominates the film for almost 4 hrs, during interviews between Lanzmann and Murmelstein which took place in Rome in 1975. They were meant for use in Shoah, Lanzmann’s masterwork of 1985. There was too much material, so Lanzmann realized that “I had no right to keep it [the footage] to myself.” Murmelstein was the man who came closest to Adolph Eichmann. Although he survived the camp, he never went to Israel or testified in Eichmann’s trial because he was accused and condemned as a “collaborator.” Lanzmann is an old man of 87 who is defying age for the sake of bearing witness.
The Last of the Unjust must be seen.
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life is an inspirational and uplifting story. 109 year old, Alice Herz Sommer, the world’s oldest concert pianist and Holocaust survivor shares her story on how to achieve a long and happy life. As an inmate of Theresienstadt (Terezin), she continued to play classical music. It is her positive thinking which allowed her to maintain equilibrium and survive in the concentration camp. The film is short, 39 minutes, but it is beautifully crafted and photographed with an underlying philosophical theme which is edifying and inspiring.
The Flat is the work of documentarian Arnon Goldfinger who participates in the clearing out of his grandmother’s apartment after her death in Tel Aviv. His grandparents had immigrated to Palestine from Germany before World War II. The main protagonist is his mother, a woman in her 70”s, the only daughter of the couple who maintained their German language, customs and friendship with a German couple, senior Nazi SS officer, Leopold von Mildenstein. The movie is like a suspense mystery. Gradually mother and son uncover the truth which is disturbing and shocking. The capacity of human beings to be in denial and to experience self-delusion is revealed. It is an excellent film.