UNE PRODUCTION SYNECDOCHE, LE PACTE, DOR FILM, LES FILMS ALEPH
EN COPRODUCTION AVEC FRANCE 3 CINEMA
AVEC LA PARTICIPATION DE CANAL+, FRANCE TELEVISIONS, CINE+, ORF (FILM/FERNSEH-ABKOMMEN), CENTRE NATIONAL DU CINEMA ET DE L'IMAGE ANIMEE
AVEC LE SOUTIEN DE LA REGION ILE-DE-FRANCE, OSTERREICHISCHES FILMINSTITUT, FILM FONDS WIEN, LA FONDATIONAN POUR LA MEMOIRE DE LA SHOAH
THE LAST OF THE UNJUST
UN FILM DE CLAUDE LANZMANN
POUR IRIS VAN DER WAARD
Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein was the last Chairman of the Theresienstadt Judenrat (Jewish Council). I filmed him during a whole week in Rome in 1975.
In my eyes, the case of Theresienstadt was capital, both lateral and central, in the genesis and process of the Final Solution.
These long hours of interviews, rich in firsthand revelations, have continued to dwell in my mind and haunt me.
I knew that I was the custodian of something unique but backed away from the difficulties of constructing such a film.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that I had no right to keep it to myself.
Theresienstadt, 60 km northwest of Prague, a fortress town built in the late eighteenth century, had been picked by the Nazis as the site of what Adolf Eichmann himself called a "model ghetto" -- a show ghetto.
As they had done in every ghetto in Poland since October 1939, the Nazis formed a Jewish Council, composed of twelve members and an Elder, called the Judenalteste -- literally "the oldest of the Jewes" -- in their vocabulary of contempt and fear with its tribal connotations.
In Theresienstadt, between November 1941 and spring 1945, during the four years of the ghetto's existence, there were three successive Elders of the Jews.
The first, Jacob Edelstein, was a Zionist from Prague who cherished youth. After two years of Nazi hell in which everything, absolutely everything, was forbidden to the Jews, he welcomed the birth of Theresienstadt with blind optimism, hoping that the difficult life that awaited them there would prepare them for their future settlement in Palestine.
The Nazis arrested him in November 1943, deported him to Auschwitz and killed him six months later with a bullet in the back of the head (Genickschuss) after murdering his wife and son before his eyes in the same manner.
The second Elder was Paul Eppstein; he was from Berlin and was also killed by a bullet in the back of his head in Theresienstadt itself on September 27, 1944.
Benjamin Murmelstein, the third and therefore final Elder, a rabbi from Vienna, was named Elder in December 1944. Murmelstein had a striking appearance and was brilliantly intelligent, the cleverest of the three and perhaps the most courageous.
Unlike Jacob Edelstein, he could not bear the suffering of the elderly. Although he succeeded in keeping the ghetto going until the final days of the war and saved the population from the death marches ordered by Hitler, the hatred of some of the survivors came to be focused upon him.
He could easily have fled. He refused, preferring to be arrested and imprisoned by the Czech authorities after a number of Jews accused him of collaborating with the enemy. He spent eighteen months in prison before being acquitted of all charges.
He went into exile in Rome, where he lived a harsh life. He never went to Israel despite his deep desire to do so and his pure love for that land.
All the Elders of the Jews met a tragic end. Benjamin Murmelstein is the only Jewish Council Elder who survived the war, making his testimony infinitely precious. He does not lie; he is ironic, sardonic, harsh with others and with himself.
Thinking of the title of Andre Schwarz-Bart's masterpiece, The Last of the Just, he calls himself "The Last of the Unjust." He thus gave this film its title. Before our interviews in 1975, he had written a book in Italian entitled "Terezin, il ghetto modello di Eichmann," published in 1961.
When I first quote him in the film, the year is 1942, with the arrival of a "transport" of German Jews from Hamburg. But, since 1941, Theresienstadt had above all been populated by Czech and Austrian Jews.
Thanks to the former members of the technical office responsible for developing construction plans, outstanding designers, we have an extraordinary collection of works of art that reveal what real life was like in the "model ghetto": built to house 7,000 soldiers at the most, Theresienstadt took in 50,000 Jews during its peak periods.
Most of these artists of genius, who got up in the middle of the night to secretly complete works that they interred deep underground, were murdered in the gas chambers of the death camps.
-- Claude Lanzmann
[Claude Lanzmann] Who in the world today knows the name of Bohusovice and its station? On the heavily trafficked line from Prague to Dresden and on to Berlin.
We cannot ... we cannot control the traffic.
However, between November 1941 and the spring of 1945, 140,000 Jews disembarked onto these very platforms. Or, rather, were disembarked. To be led, in the worst possible conditions, three kilometers from here to Theresienstadt, still known in Czech as Terezin, the town that Hitler had just given as a gift to the Jews. The event was reported in all the Nazi newspapers. "The Fuhrer gives the gift of a town to the Jews." What a gift!
[Claude Lanzmann] [Reading of extracts from Benjamin Murmelstein's book, "Terezin, il ghetto modell di Eichmann"] Rumors say a town has been given to the Jews, a thermal spa with hotels and pensions. This idyllic spot would become all those who, because of their age or because they were war invalids, were unsuited for work. Jewish organizations had been authorized to draw up contracts that awarded accommodation in the spa at Terezin for life if the signatories transferred all their property to Eichmann's fund.
The German Jews had been raised with a reverential respect to every form of authority and so none of them imagined calling the Fuhrer's gift into question. The wealthy willingly yielded to the request to hand over all their property because they thus procured the means to take care of their fellow Jews impoverished by 10 years of Nazi rule. In Vienna, the elderly, the sick, the blind and the insane kicked into the cattle wagons still bore the mark of hobnailed boots on them when they arrived. Those from Hamburg, however, were given an opportunity to admire the generous way in which the enemies of the Reich were treated: 2nd class carriages, padded seats for everyone, suitcases filled with food and medicine to make the stay at the Terezin spa more pleasant.
When the train pulled into the station at Bohusovice, the journey was over and the illusions too. The welcome committee was made up of SS militiamen, anxious young Jews and a few Czech gendarmes. Flowers were missing. From the carriage windows, hoary heads peered out looking for a porter. Their expressions soon shift from curiosity to doubt and then to terror. To screamed orders, the elderly try to climb down from the train in their best clothes to make a good impression in the boarding houses where they have booked rooms with views of the lake from the panoramic terrace. No one holds out a hand to the newcomers. Some of them fall, bowler hats roll over the ground, shoving, slapping, beating, screams, women's sobs, a tangle of bodies, crutches and suitcases. An apocalyptic vision. It took a few hours to master the chaos. The elderly who were still standing took the road to Terezin in single file. The others followed, thrown onto trucks like logs. Only then did the Jewish porters, supervised by the SS, step in to load suitcases that were officially waiting to be searched but that, in fact, were simply confiscated.
In Berlin, everything proceeded briskly as Jews vied to sign life annuity contracts.
The railway company gave full priority to the convoys organized by Eichmann. Within a few weeks, 40,000 old people had reached the ghetto. In seeking a solution, the administrators discovered the huge attics beneath the red roofs of the barracks. Once they were settled on a brick floor, the elderly no longer got up again. To find a tap, a sink or a toilet, they had to go down and up an endless flight of stairs, an impossible undertaking.
In the burning heat of high summer, infested with lice and stifled by the suffocating stench, one could find lying in the dust and their own excrement university professors, cripples ...
decorated war veterans, top industrialists and many others who had brought with them documents proving they had founded schools, funded hospitals ...
created scholarships and occupied honorable functions in a society that was still willing to undergo the Jewish invasion. The lucky few who had found a place in one of the evacuated houses tried to explore the town, went out and sometimes never returned. Dazed and confused, the elderly roamed the streets, barely recognizing the house where they had slept. An orientation service was created especially to pick up these wandering Jews and verify their identity.
Berlin is aware of the seriousness of the situation: there is not enough room in the ghetto for all these people. Heading east from Theresienstadt, they record 2,000 deportees in June, 2,000 in July and 3,000 in August, thus freeing a few pallets. There are 155 deaths in May and 2,327 in August. Perfect German coordination has led to the completion in time of the construction of four crematorium ovens in a valley outside the town.
[Bederich Lederer, deporte de Prague a Theresienstadt, il survecut.]
[Claude Lanzmann] [Reading of extracts from Benjamin Murmelstein's book, "Terezin, il ghetto modell di Eichmann"] For the dead, a hearse is not enough, because 30 corpses at a time are carried on a large trailer. Bedrich Lederer, from Prague. He survived.
[Ferdinand Bloch, assassine le 31 octobre 1944 dans la Petite Forteresse de Theresienstadt.Ferdinand Bloch murdered in Theresienstadt.]
[Claude Lanzmann] [Reading of extracts from Benjamin Murmelstein's book, "Terezin, il ghetto modell di Eichmann"] The funeral ceremony, for always collective for 30 to 40 corpses, takes place four times a day in a hut near the gate.
[Bedrich Fritta, mort a Auschwitz en octobre 1944. Bedrich Fritta, died in Auschwitz in October 1944.]
[Claude Lanzmann] [Reading of extracts from Benjamin Murmelstein's book, "Terezin, il ghetto modell di Eichmann"] The coffins are not sealed because they are made so that the lid and sides can be used again for another dead body while the base goes into the oven with the corpse and helps fuel the fire. The organization of death makes progress, becoming more and more sophisticated. For the living, the worst is about to happen. Everywhere, hearses are requisitioned from Jewish communities in Bohemia where there is no one left to take to the cemetery.
[Otto Ungar, deporte en 1944 a Auschwitz puis a Buchenwald, il mourut en 1945 des suites de sa deportation. Otto Ungar, died in 1945 from the after-effects of deportation.]
[Claude Lanzmann] [Reading of extracts from Benjamin Murmelstein's book, "Terezin, il ghetto modell di Eichmann"] In front of the hearse, two curved figures pretend to pull and, around it, 10, 15 and even 20 people, men and women, could either be pushing the hearse or clinging to it to avoid falling. Yet it advances.
In these hearses, they carry bread to be handed out, coal for heating, dirty linen for the laundries, and inert little old people being taken for delousing. Built for the dead, these hearses serve the living, but are we still living? A certain Mr. Korbhof tells me, "We are on a ghost ship. We are all dead even if we don't know it yet." On one of the hearses, a sign reads, "Kitchen for Children."
The unduly slow pace of the hearses prevails in the town. Here, death does not strike its victims in a flash but rather in a slow motion like a decrepit and toothless beast. It does not hurt them: it claws them and leaves them to rot.
The hearse is used by the living. It's the world upside down.
[Claude Lanzmann] This is Rome.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Yes, it's Rome. Beautiful city, isn't it? I don't think Rome needs my opinion to be beautiful. Then again, I'm neither an artist nor an art expert.
[Claude Lanzmann] Are you happy in Rome?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] My hesitation is a partial answer.
But to answer you all the same, I'll say, to the extent that a Jew in exile can be happy, yes.
[Claude Lanzmann] Yes?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Yes.
[Claude Lanzmann] But it's so strange, so bizarre, to return to this past here in Rome. Isn't it?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Actually, here in Rome, the past we're talking about had repercussions for the whole of Europe. As with a forest, you see, when it's destroyed.
Its destruction has climatic repercussions on a whole region. Even far from where it stood.
Similarly, the absence of Judaism from the East, European Judaism, one could say, has climatic repercussions on the whole world. Be it Rome or any other city. We can talk about it in Rome. Judaism is missing. It is lacking from the world that was destroyed. Here in Rome too.
[Claude Lanzmann] Yes, but what do you feel when you talk about this past?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Yes .. I mean, returning to the past is never that pleasant. Not because I have personal reasons not to return to the past, but fundamentally. Fundamentally. Look. Allow me to refer to a myth. You know that mythology is my field as a discipline. It's the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. She is in the realm of the dead and her husband manages to free her. Shortly before she leaves the realm of the dead, she looks back and she is obliged to stay. Sometimes, looking back is not a good thing. Then again ...
The teaching goes beyond "is" and "ought," knowledge and command; it only knows how to say the one thing needful that must be realized in genuine fulfilled life. This realization is no abstract conception, feeling, or act of will, no unity of world, knowledge, God, spirit, or being. Rather it is the unity of this human life and this human soul. Genuine life is united life. Each thing reveals the Tao through the way of existence, through its life. But the oneness of the world is only the product and reflection of the oneness of the completed human being.
The teaching is realized in genuine life, wrote Buber in 1910, the life of the "central man." The central man adds no new element to teaching. Rather he fulfills it in authentic, unified life, raising the conditioned into the unconditioned. He seeks out and speaks to the simple, his poor brothers in spirit, in the language that they can hear: in parable. When he dies, the memory of his life becomes a parable itself. Parable is the insertion of the absolute into the world of events, myth the insertion of the world of things in to the absolute. Parable and myth stand between teaching and religion, leading from the one to the other. They "attach themselves to the central human life in which the teaching has found its purest fulfillment: the parable as the word of this man himself, the myth as the impact of this life on the consciousness of the age."
If the teaching must be refracted in the prism of the parable, so the life too of the central man is not seen as reflected in a mirror but as refracted in a prism: it is mythicized.
Myth does not mean that one brings the stars down to earth and allows them to tread it in human shape; rather in it the bliss-bestowing human shape is elevated to heaven, and moon and sun, Orion and the Pleiades, serve only to adorn it. Myth is not an affair of yonder and of old, but a function of today and of all times, of this city where I write and of all places of man. This is an eternal function of the soul: the insertion of what is experienced... into the magic of existence. The stronger the tension and intensity of the experience, the greater the formative power that is experienced. Where the highest shape, the hero and saviour, the sublimest event, the life that he has lived, and the mightiest tension, the profound emotion of the simple, meet, the myth arises which compels all the future.
-- Encounter With Mysticism, Excerpt from "Martin Buber's Life and Work," by Maurice Friedman
[Claude Lanzmann] Do you think it's dangerous?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] It could be dangerous. Then again, as you know, we've talked at length. You have persuaded me that our conversation is important and that is the reason why I have accepted. On the other hand, we shall perhaps return to this .... In my public activity in the past, my activity at the time, I never let danger stop me from doing what I had to. I consider the conversation that we are having today as a belated epilogue to my activity of the period. And that is why I'm ignoring the danger to place myself at your disposal.
[Claude Lanzmann] Yes, but 30 years have gone by ... You remained silent for 30 years.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I wasn't completely silent. Not completely, but ... Firstly, other people talked so much that I preferred to let them talk.
[Claude Lanzmann] Other people?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] As for me, I published a book on Theresienstadt in 1961.
[Claude Lanzmann] Eichmann ghetto modello?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Terezin, il ghetto modello di Eichmann, and a few years later I had the
to publish in the press an account of my activities as Elder of the Jews in Theresienstadt. One cannot say that I remained silent.
[Claude Lanzmann] But this is your first time in front of a camera?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Not my first time ever in front of a film camera, no. The first time, I was filmed in '44
[Claude Lanzmann] In Theresienstadt?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] In Theresienstadt, during the work on the town's embellishment as ...
[Claude Lanzmann] Embellishment?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] ... the Elder's representative. I didn't personally decide on the embellishment of the town. But during the embellishment work, they shot a film, "Theresienstadt." At the meeting of the Jewish Council. Eppstein gave a speech. I was sitting next to him, listening attentively.
[Claude Lanzmann] Benjamin Murmelstein, sitting to the left of Elder Eppstein who gives a speech to the Jewish Council on the embellishment of Theresienstadt, Stadtverschonerung. Eppstein doesn't know he will be executed a few weeks later.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I saw that film. And I was very pleased that the scene I appeared in had been cut. It's simple. At first, I didn't understand why. I was with Eppstein in the scene. In the meantime, Eppstein had been executed.
And a dead Elder of the Jews cannot be used for propaganda, can he? That is why they cut the film and removed that scene.
[MISE EN SCENE NAZIE: THERESIENSTADT]
[Movie Narrator] A city of barracks is the work center. Mutually beneficial work is performed by teams of 100.
Groups are trained according to skills and then retrained if needed. Those willing to work can immediately fit into the labor force. When the work day is over and evening begins ...
the laborers leave the factories and return to the town.
Use of free time is left to the individual. Often, workers flock to the soccer game, Theresienstadt's major sports event.
To accommodate the spectators, the matches are held in the courtyard of the Dresdener Barrack. The two teams have only seven men each due to limited space.
Nonetheless, enthusiastic fans watch a spirited game from beginning to end.
A municipal bath serves the population.
Evening lectures on the sciences and arts are regularly attended.
[Claude Lanzmann] I had a very hard time finding you, and I'm glad I have. Many people told me, "Murmelstein is dead," or "Murmelstein must be very, very old."
[Benjamin Murmelstein] He is!
[Claude Lanzmann] No.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] He is. I'll tell you something. Those who told you that were right. There's an old proverb from the Talmud that says ...
"A poor man is just like a dead man." If that's what you understood, you weren't wrong.
[Claude Lanzmann] But that's not exactly how it is because you're the last of the Elders of the Jews.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No, I'm the only one still alive. The last one, say. However you mean that, whether you mean it qualitatively or chronologically ...
doesn't really matter.
[Claude Lanzmann] Yes, but you're the last. There are no others.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No.
[Claude Lanzmann] No others anywhere. Is that right?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No, not as far as I know. Not as far as I know. I'm the last. It's rather strange to be the last. When I arrived for my interrogation for the first time in Pankratz Prison in Prague in 1945, the question asked was, "How come you're alive? How come you're alive?"
But since I'm not the type to panic easily and be submissive, I replied ...
"And you, how come you're alive?" From my reaction, he saw that he couldn't unnerve me and he said, "Yes, all the Jewish Elders have been killed, etc." And with those words, a huge debate was launched. I made a specific demand, I told him ...
"I won't answer you until you bring me my luggage." So they fetched my things, because I remained silent otherwise. And then I took from my bag an International Red Cross passport. Not a refugee's passport, but a diplomat's passport. The passport of a member from the delegation of the International Red Cross in Czechoslovakia, that acted as a pass for the police, military roadblocks, etc. So I said, "I wanted to show you this so that you can see that since May 5, 1945, for six weeks now, I've stayed here even though I could have left. I stayed because I wanted to talk to you. And I'm talking now as a prisoner, of course, but you could say that I'm a voluntary prisoner."
[Claude Lanzmann] A voluntary prisoner?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Yes, exactly. Since I could have left at any time.
[Claude Lanzmann] But you didn't.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] "I didn't leave. So now we can talk, can't we?"
I'm going to tell you something. I didn't tell him. I wasn't as clever as he was. Perhaps it's because I didn't think of it back then. Do you know the story of the Thousand and One Nights? There's a princess and a sultan. The sultan kills all women. One of them survives because she has to tell a tale. And she takes so long to tell her tale that she is saved in the end. I survived because I had a tale to tell. I had to tell the tale of the Jews' paradise, Theresienstadt. They imagined that I would tell them about a ghetto where the Jews live as in paradise, where they are happy.
They kept me to tell this tale. And that was the case until May 5, 1945, when the International Red Cross was in Theresienstadt. They perhaps made a slight blunder. To stay in the realm of stories, you know the tale of Red Riding Hood. The wolf that puts on the grandmother's cape and gets into bed disguised as the grandmother? When the hood falls by accident, at that specific moment ...
the animal appears and we see that it isn't the grandmother. That's more or less what happened on May 5.
And so the ghetto was saved.
And so was I. They didn't take me. That's the mystery of survival. I couldn't have told him that. He wouldn't have understood.
[Claude Lanzmann] [In English] And so Murmelstein was the only one able to testify about [inaudible]
[Woman] [Translates] You alone can testify about the Elder of the Jews.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No, no, that's a different category. One cannot say that. Let's say a doctor can talk about doctors. They form a professional body. An engineer can talk about engineers. Elder of the Jews is a category that changed with the circumstances.
[Claude Lanzmann] That's true but ...
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Always changed.
[Claude Lanzmann] But the problems ...
[Benjamin Murmelstein] The problems? The problems weren't, aren't always, not always -- they were different in Theresienstadt, different in the East, but deep down, it was the same thing, you see. Deep down, the Elder of the Jews was always between the hammer and the anvil, between the Jews and the Germans. And the person in that position can deaden a lot of blows.
Thus, the blow from above does not strike the anvil. But he takes all the blows. Not one could be avoided. In the ancient East, there was a custom according to which a slave was named king. He could govern for a day. After that, he was executed. And during that day, he was mocked, insulted, and then executed. This myth was passed on. It went from the Orient to Rome. The Romans then carried it to the Rhine.
There, they have their Prince of Carnival. Rumkowski (the Lodz Jewish Elder) had no idea of all that, and believed that the Elder was a tragi-comic character. They say he had himself called Krol Chaim, King Chaim.
[Claude Lanzmann] King Chaim?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] King Chaim, Krol Chaim, it's Polish.
Yes, he made a fool of himself. He knew that the Jewish Elder ...
was a comic character, a caricature. He knew that. In the mind of the Nazis, it was a caricature.
[Woman] [Translates] A mockery.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Yes, a caricature, a character that is created in order to insult him and then kill him when he is no longer of any use. You see? The system repeats itself. It was the same at the Crucifixion. When Jesus is insulted by the soldiers. The legion that was in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion was previously garrisoned in a place where such practices were current. We know that. You see? Rumkowski had clearly understood that the Elder of the Jews was in fact a tragi-comic character.
Hausner (Eichmann's prosecutor) could have avoided talking nonsense. In his book, "Justice in Jerusalem," he writes about two Jewish Elders who were the "tools or marionettes" of the Germans. One of them was Rumkowski, and he talks about the fact that this marionette voluntarily boarded the train to accompany the last Jew to Auschwitz. I do not see any resemblance there with a marionette. Where I'm concerned, he doesn't explain why I was a marionette. He calls me a marionette and that's that. Everyone knows, he claims. He seems Rumkowski's departure for Auschwitz as evidence. Things in which he was a mere instrument. In my case, he considers it obvious that I was a tool.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I'll tell you something fundamental about the Jewish Elder. The Elder was in the position of a marionette, a comic marionette. But that marionette had to act in such a way that his comic nature would alter the course of things. No one could nor should understand that. Otherwise, we'd have been slaughtered. He had to act in such a way that, as a marionette, he would change things. Usually, marionettes are worked by strings. That marionette had to pull its own strings. That was the difficulty of the Elder's task. Others don't understand a thing. That marionette had to pull its own strings. The others had to dance around it.
[Les Heuriger, vignobles de Vienne. The Heuriger, the Viennese vineyards]
[Claude Lanzmann] Dr. Murmelstein, when did you begin to work for the Jewish Community of Vienna?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I joined the administrative department of the Jewish Community in June 1938. When it was reopened.
[Claude Lanzmann] After the Anschluss?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] After the Anschluss. It was the outcome of a process that had begun years before. In 1934, to be precise. I was still the rabbi of the 20th district. It was the second largest Jewish district in Vienna. At a certain point there was a ceremony for fighters fallen on the front in the synagogue where I officiated. I spoke about the 12,000 unknown soldiers. And I said, "Each people has its unknown soldier. We Jews have 12,000 of them. They are the 12,000 who died in battle, and that Goebbels has had removed from the war memorials." After the Anschluss, the Community was banned, and its leading representatives were arrested. Subsequently, when the Jewish Community reopened, it was obvious that we needed to put out two appeals. One appeal to young people, and a second, basic appeal also directed towards foreign nations and designed to represent the interests of the Community. In short, we had to preserve our dignity while saying at the same time, "We have to emigrate." After they thought of me, at the time, to handle the matters of youth, I was asked to draw up the appeal to young people. Which I did. The basic appeal, the main appeal, they tried and tried but nothing came of it. In the end, I was given the task of composing that appeal. I wrote it and not only was it passed by the censors, but it also met with a certain approval from the Jewish point of view. And this led to the first contacts of an administrative nature with the Jewish Community.
'The Cruel Criteria of Zionism'
The week of terror unleashed against the Jews by the Nazis' victory in the elections of March 1933 had brought thousands on to the streets outside the Palestine Office in Berlin, but there was still no desire to turn Palestine into a genuine refuge. Emigration had to continue to serve the needs of Zionism. Only young, healthy, qualified and committed Zionists were wanted. The Gemman HaChalutz Pioneers declared unrestricted emigration to Palestine to be a 'Zionist crime'. Enzo Sereni, then the Labour Zionist emissary in Germany, laid down their criteria:
Even in this difficult hour we must allot most of the 1,000 immigration certificates to pioneers. This may seem cruel, but even if the British were to grant 10,000 certificates instead of the 1,000 they are giving us now, we would still say: Let the young people go, for even if they suffer less than the older ones, they are better fitted for the task in Palestine. Children can later bring their parents, but not the other way around.
Weizmann had overall charge of emigration from Germany between 1933 and his re-election to the presidency in 1935. His report in January 1934 listed some of the standards used for choosing prospective immigrants. Those who were 'over 30, and possess no capital and no special qualifications cannot be absorbed in Palestine unless specific openings for the work they did in Germany are found'. On 26 April he specifically excluded several important groupings from serious consideration as immigrants: 'former businessmen, commercial travellers, artists, and musicians will this time hardly be eligible for certificates'. Most German Jews were simply not wanted in Palestine, they were either too old, or their occupation did not fit the country's needs, or they spoke no Hebrew and were not committed ideologically. Among themselves the Zionist leadership was quite frank about what they were doing. In 1933 Berl Katznelson, then editing the Histadrut's daily newspaper, Davar, reflected their mentality: 'we know that we are not able to transfer all of German Jewry and will have to choose on the basis of the cruel criteria of Zionism’. In 1935 Moshe Sharett (Shertok) again declared that circumstances obliged them to treat Diaspora Jewry with a degree of cruelty.' The Israeli scholar Abraham Margaliot has written about a speech given by Weizmann before the Zionist Executive in 1935:
he declared that the Zionist movement would have to choose between the immediate rescue of Jews and the establishment of a national project which would ensure lasting redemption for the Jewish people. Under such circumstances, the movement, according to Weizmann, must choose the latter course.
-- Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal, by Lenni Brenner
Namely, they gave me the task of writing the reports for the authorities. The reports for the authorities had to be ...
[Claude Lanzmann] Which authorities?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] The Nazi authorities. The way I saw it, these reports shouldn't be servile. They had to show the Jewish point of view, but presented in such a way as to attain something. And so, one fine day, I was ordered to deliver a report that had to be written quickly ...
to a certain Mr. Eichmann. He received me in a stairwell. At that time, he didn't have an office. He was an Untersturmfuhrer, in other words a lieutenant, and his whole office consisted of a huge briefcase. He received me in a stairwell and we discussed the report, standing there on the stairs. That was the first time that I saw Eichmann, in '38.
After that, I had to spend seven years with him.
[Claude Lanzmann] When was this?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] The summer of 1938.
[Claude Lanzmann] Before the war?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Well before the war, yes. It was well before the war. Summer '38. The war began in '39.
[Claude Lanzmann] Summer '38?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Summer '38. Yes. After that, I was in contact with him for a full seven years.
[Claude Lanzmann] Seitenstettengasse. On the left side of the street, the buildings of the Viennese Jewish Community, still standing in spite of the war.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] He soon guessed that I could be useful. In particular, he wanted to study emigration. In Vienna, nobody knew anything about emigration. We had a few specialists, specialists in emigration, people from travel agencies or shipping companies, who had lost their jobs and whom the Jewish Community had hired for its emigration service.
[Claude Lanzmann] Eichmann wanted to study Jewish emigration?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No, in general. Emigration and Jewish emigration. At that time, he needed someone ...
[Claude Lanzmann] I'm sorry, Dr. Murmelstein, the Office for Jewish Emigration ...
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Was only established later. Much later. He needed someone to study the problems for him, prepare the documents, read the necessary books, and come up with a resume. You understand? At the time, he did not say what I'm telling you now, that he wanted to learn about it, but this is how it went.
A report would arrive. Obersturmfuhrer, or Untersturmfuhrer Eichmann would demand a report on this or that. Within two hours. So I would have to find the books, sum them up, dictate and deliver the report. It was a crash course.
I taught him all about emigration.
[Claude Lanzmann] Yes, all right.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] In Vienna, he claimed to be an emigration expert. I taught him something that I hardly knew myself.
[Claude Lanzmann] Did you prepare the reports personally?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I wrote them and learned at the same time.
When a topic was proposed, I had to gather the literature ...
[Claude Lanzmann] For instance? Can you give an example?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No, I forget now. But anything on Jewish emigration, on the history of it ...
on how things unfolded concerning emigration to America, the statistics, etc. I had to sum up encylopedias and books for him, after learning all about it myself.
[Claude Lanzmann] Did you take the task seriously or not too seriously?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] He was serious about it.
[Claude Lanzmann] But you?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] For me, it was serious. I had to do it. It was very serious.
It's true, it was absurd, but it was work. And although I needed three hours, the job had to be done in one. Because of that, it was very serious.
[Claude Lanzmann] No other possibility?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No, it all depended on when he had to deliver it to answer the questions.
If he had to answer a question within an hour ...
he needed the report in time, you see? If my work were to take three hours, that was a disaster.
[Claude Lanzmann] Couldn't you have said three hours weren't enough?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] It was said, but it led to threats, screams and so on. He had traveled to Jerusalem claiming to be an emigration expert. (The English expelled him) Of course he was an expert. He had learned from me.
On 2 October 1937, the liner Romania arrived in Haifa with two German journalists aboard. Herbert Hagen and his junior colleague, Eichmann, disembarked. They met their agent, Reichert, and later that day Feivel Polkes, who showed them Haifa from Mount Carmel and took them to visit a kibbutz. Years later, when he was in hiding in Argentina, Eichmann taped the story of his experiences and looked back at his brief stay in Palestine with fond nostalgia:
I did see enough to be very impressed by the way the Jewish colonists were building up their land. I admired their desperate will to live, the more so since I was myself an idealist. In the years that followed I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine being anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.
But the two SS men had made a mistake in contacting their local agent; the British CID had become aware of Reichert’s ring, and two days later they summarily expelled the visitors to Egypt. Polkes followed them there, and further discussions were held on 10 and 11 October at Cairo's Cafe Groppi. In their report on their expedition Hagen and Eichmann gave a careful rendering of Polkes's words at these meetings. Polkes told the two Nazis:
The Zionist state must be established by all means and as soon as possible. When the Jewish state is established according to the current proposals laid down in the Peel paper, and in line with England's partial promises, then the borders may be pushed further outwards according to one's wishes.
He went on:
in Jewish nationalist circles people were very pleased with the radical German policy, since the strength of the Jewish population in Palestine would be so far increased thereby that in the foreseeable future the Jews could reckon upon numerical superiority over the Arabs in Palestine.
During his February visit to Berlin, Polkes had proposed that the Haganah should act as spies for the Nazis, and now he showed their good faith by passing on two pieces of intelligence information. He told Hagen and Eichmann:
the Pan-Islamic World Congress convening in Berlin is in direct contact with two pro-Soviet Arab leaders: Emir Shekib Arslan and Emir Adil Arslan… The illegal Communist broadcasting station whose transmission to Germany is particularly strong, is, according to Polkes' statement, assembled on a lorry that drives along the German-Luxembourg border when transmission is on the air.
-- Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal, by Lenni Brenner
[Claude Lanzmann] Was he really an expert or ...
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No! No. You see, I think he knew things superficially. Superficially. Only superficially. Just as it was said that Eichmann understood Hebrew. You understand? Among the many absurd ...
[Claude Lanzmann] [Asks question not translated]
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No. Among the many absurd claims, a book asserts that I supposedly taught him Hebrew. [Obvious cut in film] In any case, I never taught him Hebrew. I know that he demanded a translation once, and I saw that he didn't know which page to take the text from. He had no idea.
He had acquired a superficial culture concerning Jewish emigration.
By 1934 the SS had become the most pro-Zionist element in the Nazi Party. Other Nazis were even calling them 'soft' on the Jews. Baron von Mildenstein had returned from his six-month visit to Palestine as an ardent Zionist sympathiser. Now as the head of the Jewish Department of the SS's Security Service, he started studying Hebrew and collecting Hebrew records; when his former companion and guide, Kurt Tuchler, visited his office in 1934, he was greeted by the strains of familiar Jewish folk tunes. There were maps on the walls showing the rapidly increasing strength of Zionism inside Germany. Von Mildenstein was as good as his word: he not only wrote favourably about what he saw in the Zionist colonies in Palestine; he also persuaded Goebbels to run the report as a massive twelve-part series in his own Der Angriff (The Assault), the leading Nazi propaganda organ (26 September to 9 October 1934). His stay among the Zionists had shown the SS man 'the way to curing a centuries-long wound on the body of the world: the Jewish question'. It was really amazing how some good Jewish boden under his feet could enliven the Jew: 'The soil has reformed him and his kind in a decade. This new Jew will be a new people.' To commemorate the Baron's expedition, Goebbels had a medal struck: on one side the swastika, on the other the Zionist star....
Until the Arab revolt, the Nazis’ patronage of Zionism had been warm but scarcely committed, as we have seen. However, with the political turmoil in Palestine and the appointment of the Peel Commission, the WZO saw their chance to persuade the Nazis to make a public commitment to them in Palestine itself. On 8 December 1936 a joint delegation of the Jewish Agency, the highest body of the WZO in Palestine, and the Hitachdut Olei Germania (the German Immigrants Association), went to the Jerusalem office of Doehle, the German Consul-General. The Zionist scholar, David Yisraeli, has related the incident.
They sought through Doehle to persuade the Nazi government to have its Jerusalem representative appear before the Peel Commission, and declare that Germany was interested in an increased immigration to Palestine because of its eagerness to have the Jews emigrate from Germany. The Consul, however, rejected the proposal on the spot. His official reasons were that considerations of increased immigration from Germany would inevitably bring out the matter of the transfer which was detrimental to British exports to Palestine.
Characteristically, the Zionists were more eager to extend their relationship than the Nazis, but Doehle's rejection of their request did not stop them from further approaches. The outcome of the Peel Commission's expedition was thought crucial to the Zionist endeavour and it was therefore the Haganah, then the military arm of the Jewish Agency (de facto the Labour Zionist militia), that obtained Berlin's permission to negotiate directly with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Security Service of the SS. A Haganah agent, Feivel Polkes, arrived in Berlin on 26 February 1937 and was assigned Adolf Eichmann as his negotiating partner. Eichmann had been a protege of the pro-Zionist von Mildenstein and, like his mentor, had studied Hebrew, read Herzl and was the SD's specialist on Zionism. The Eichmann-Polkes conversations were recorded in a report prepared by Eichmann's superior, Franz-Albert Six, which was found in the SS files captured by the American Army at the end of the Second World War:
Polkes is a national-Zionist… He is against all Jews who are opposed to the erection of a Jewish state in Palestine. As a Haganah man he fights against Communism and all aims of Arab-British friendship… He noted that the Haganah's goal is to reach, as soon as possible, a Jewish majority in Palestine. Therefore he worked, as this objective required, with or against the British Intelligence Service, the Surete Generale, with England and Italy… He declared himself willing to work for Germany in the form of providing intelligence as long as this does not oppose his own political goals. Among other things he would support German foreign policy in the Near East. He would try to find oil sources for the German Reich without affecting British spheres of interest if the German monetary regulations were eased for Jewish emigrants to Palestine.
Six definitely thought that a working alliance with the Haganah would be in the Nazis' interest. They still needed the latest inside information on the various Jewish boycott groups and on Jewish plots against the lives of prominent Nazis. He was eager to allow the SS to help the Zionists in return.
Pressure can be put on the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany in such a way that those Jews emigrating from Germany go exclusively to Palestine and not go to other countries. Such measures lie entirely in the German interest and is already prepared through measures of the Gestapo. Polkes' plans to create a Jewish majority in Palestine would be aided at the same time through these measures.
Six's enthusiasm was not shared at the German Foreign Ministry ...
-- Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal, by Lenni Brenner
Relations with Eichmann weren't simple. In my own way, I tried to bring a relaxed air in the sense that I spoke my mind with him. Once, for instance, in Berlin, all three of us were summoned together, Edelstein, Eppstein and myself, to be given instructions.
[Claude Lanzmann] Edelstein for ...
[Benjamin Murmelstein] For Prague. Eppstein for Berlin and me for Vienna.
[Claude Lanzmann] When?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] That was sometime in 1940. After he finished, he said to me, "Stay, I need to talk to you."
It was as if the devil had invited me. I didn't like it. People would talk ...
"Why is Murmelstein with Eichmann? What did Eichmann say? Why did he need to talk to him?" In such cases, people always ... So I simply said to him, "Forgive me, Sturmbannfuhrer ...
I have already booked my plane ticket." I thought Eppstein and Edelstein, standing stiff, were going to faint. But he calmly replied ...
"In that case, Saturday perhaps. I'll be in Vienna. I'll send for you." It was that simple. That was how ...
[Claude Lanzmann] You were totally free ...
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I always strived for total freedom.
I always tried to have that. That was how, for example ...
[Claude Lanzmann] Were you afraid?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Afraid ... you know, if you show that you're afraid, all is lost.
[Claude Lanzmann] But were you afraid?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Yes.
[Claude Lanzmann] Yes?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Yes.
Yes. I was, I was afraid. My God. Afraid. One could not be anything but afraid.
Because I saw Eichmann, on November 10 ...
burst into my office with a revolver in his hand
[Claude Lanzmann] That was November 10, 1938?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] November 10, 1938. Kristallnacht. This is a very important event because the verdict in Eichmann's trial ...
stressed that there was no proof that he took part in Kristallnacht. I don't know how they reached that conclusion. Because I was woken at 3:00 a.m. on the night of December 9 to 10 ...
[Claude Lanzmann] November.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] November, excuse me, November. I was woken by the janitor of the Tempelgasse synagogue where I officiated at the time. Vienna's largest synagogue. He told me that he had visitors. He couldn't say more. I immediately got dressed and went to Seitenstettengasse, to the Jewish Community offices. I was even arrested on the street and led to the temple on Seitenstettengasse where I saw a gang that was systematically destroying everything. They shattered the holy objects with hammers and axes.
And the one overseeing it all was Herr Eichmann.
[Claude Lanzmann] Eichmann was there?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] He was, overseeing everything. And then ...
[Claude Lanzmann] Were they soldiers?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] They were, they were a special SS unit. It's a strange coincidence you should ask that question because, when I arrived there, I found people in field gray uniforms.
And I told myself, "All right, the army is here." Back then, we mistakenly thought the army embodied order. But this was the SS. The so-called SS law enforcement unit. They were in field grey, not in black. It was the first time that the SS weren't in black.
[Claude Lanzmann] Eichmann was there with a revolver?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No, he was there with a crowbar.
He was destroying religious items in the temple.
[Claude Lanzmann] Eichmann himself?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Eichmann himself.
[Claude Lanzmann] The members of the congregation of the Seitenstettengasse synagogue during the attack carried out before their eyes by Eichmann.
[Histoire sans parole. A story without words.]
[Claude Lanzmann] Cigarettes stuck in their mouths, the killers in black uniforms, parade near their Mercedes Benz's.
March 18, 1938. Six days after the Anschluss. First Nazi raid on the Vienna Jewish Community. Murmelstein is in the middle, standing, in this photo taken by the Nazis. All of them, except for Murmelstein, will be arrested a few days later.
March 18, 1938. Josef Lowenherz, head of the Jewish Community of Vienna, interrogated by Eichmann, sitting, and Hagen, before being arrested.
The Jews of Vienna, forced by the Nazis, to clean the streets barehanded. 42 Synagogues were burned and destroyed during Kristallnacht. Some were razed to the ground. Only one of them, located inside the buildings on Seitenstettengasse, was not left a ruin. It has been completely restored. It is the only place of Jewish worship in Vienna today.
[Cantor Shmuel Barzilai] [Singing the Kol Nidre]
[Claude Lanzmann] Canto Shmuel Barzilai was singing the Kol Nidre, the first prayer of Yom Kippur, that relieves human beings of their commitments towards God, thus allowing them to make a fresh start, as if purified for the new year.
In memory of the 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered between 1938 and 1945 by the National Socialists and all their supporters.
"This is why I weep, and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed." Jeremy's Lamentations, 1:16.
[DEM ANDENKEN IM WELTKRIEGE 1914-1918 GEFALLENER JUDISCHER HELDEN DER INNEREN STADT VON WIEN
GEWIDMET IM JAHRE 1935 VON DER BEZIRKSGRUPPE INNERE STADT DES BUNDES JUDISCHER FRONTSOLDATEN OSTERREICHS]
[Cantor Shmuel Barzilai] [Singing Le Kaddish, la priere des morts, pour les martyrs de la deuxieme guerre mondiale et les combattants Juifs viennois tombes au cours de la premiere. The Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, for the martyrs of World War II and the fighters of World War I.]
[Chemin du Souvenir. Pathway of Remembrance]
[DAS ISRAELITSCHE BEIHAUS IN DER WIENER VORSTADT LEPOLDSTADT.]
[Claude Lanzmann] The Jewish prayer house in the Leopolstadt district. This is where the Leopolstadt temple stood, built in 1858 in the Moorish style from plans by the architect Leopold Forster. On November 10, 1938, during Kristallnacht, it was destroyed and razed to the ground by the National Socialist barbarians.
Encountered by chance, six non-Jewish Viennese were following the Pathway of Remembrance that day.
[Woman] [Reading a plaque] "In memory of our 40,000 Jewish fellow citizens who, between October 1941 ...
and March 1943, were gathered in this part of the school and from here deported to the death camps. May we never forget.
[Claude Lanzmann] "The Pathway of Remembrance, in memory of the mass deportation of Austrian Jews 70 years ago."
[Benjamin Murmelstein] And, after a while, I was taken away and transferred to the apartment of Emil Engel. At the time, I was only number three in the Jewish Community. Emil Engel was number two. Lowenherz was away in Paris.
[Claude Lanzmann] Dr. Joseph Lowenherz?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] He was in Paris. Yes, the head. He was in Paris. I was taken to Engel's place, to his apartment, and the two of us had to stay there under guard for one or two hours.
Afterwards, each one of us had to go to our own office. As soon as I sat down at my desk ...
Eichmann burst in like a madman, a revolver in his hand. I thought he would shoot.
"Emigration must not stop! It has to continue!" So I thought to myself, I didn't understand.
One felt like crying when it was laughable. This was how he wanted to encourage emigration.
[Claude Lanzmann] Where were you?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I was at my desk and he threw open the door before me ...
aimed his revolver at me. "Emigration has to continue!" Promoting emigration in this manner seemed unusual to me. But, afterwards, he calmed down. And a few days later, after Lowenherz had returned, he made up a story saying that he had to come to the Jewish Community on November 10 or the whole place would have been destroyed. He went there to protect the building and the offices. A protector.
The Community's protector. That was the role he played. You know, when you know that and then read, in the court's ruling, that Eichmann's involvement in the events of November 10 hasn't been proved, that strikes you as odd. Because, let me tell you something regarding Eichmann's trial. Because it didn't take a genius to convict Eichmann. Nor to execute Eichmann. It could have been done without a trial. But since there was a trial, it had to be done correctly, by the book.
Yet they omitted such important things as November 10. If you'll allow me to digress, I'd like to tell you that concerning November 10, since we're talking about it, I don't at all agree with the usual version of the facts. November 10 has no link with Grynszpan's attack on the Nazi diplomat Von Rath in Paris.
[Claude Lanzmann] No?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] No. November 10 was the 20th anniversary of the proclamation of the Weimar Republic. On November 10, 1918, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the Weimar Republic, also known as the Jews' Republic. There are declarations from both Hitler and Rosenberg, stating that on November 10, 1918, the Jews betrayed Germany and would pay for it.
[Claude Lanzmann] Yes, but why didn't you attend Eichmann's trial in Israel?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] I considered it my duty to give them my address. I did that. The intermediary who passed on my address told me that they had my address and my phone number. After that, I also provided them with my book. And then
[Claude Lanzmann] The book on Eichmann and Theresienstadt?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] On Theresienstadt and Eichmann. And then I had a letter. I'll give you a photocopy of that letter, which says, "Thank you for the book that you sent us. We have been able to use it insomuch as it confirmed statements of trustworthy witnesses." I told myself that I couldn't help them. For them, I wasn't trustworthy.
You see, I bear no grudges and I did my duty. But nevertheless, the fact is that the image of Eichmann during the trial was totally distorted. For example, Mrs. Arendt's theory about Eichmann's banality was laughable! Him ... Banal? Eichmann, banal.
When the New Yorker sent me ...
to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann,
I assumed ...
that a courtroom had only one interest --
to fulfill the demands of justice.
This was not a simple task,
because the court that tried Eichmann was confronted with a crime ...
it could not find in the law books ...
and a criminal whose like was unknown in any court prior to the Nuremberg trials.
But still, the court ...
had to define Eichmann as a man on trial for his deeds.
There was no system on trial,
no history, no ism,
not even anti-Semitism,
but only a person.
The trouble with a Nazi criminal like Eichmann ...
was that he insisted on renouncing all personal qualities ...
as if there was nobody left to be either punished or forgiven.
He protested time and again,
contrary to the prosecution's assertions,
that he had never done anything out of his own initiative,
that he had no intentions whatsoever, good or bad,
that he had only obeyed orders.
This ... typical Nazi plea ...
makes it clear that the greatest evil in the world ...
is the evil committed by nobodies --
evil committed by men without motive,
without convictions, without wicked hearts or demonic wills.
By human beings who refuse to be persons.
And it is this phenomenon ...
that I have called the banality of evil.
-- Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta
For example, the corrupt Eichmann was never once shown. For example, the so-called Colombian operation. Eichmann was focused on that and came one day to tell Lowenherz, "We must organize group emigration. Turn away individuals!
We must promote group emigration. We'll finish sooner. As if ...
[Claude Lanzmann] Group emigration?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Group emigration. And
[Claude Lanzmann] The gas chambers were for groups too.
[Benjamin Murmelstein] He wanted group emigration. One day, he said, "I'll show you how to do group emigration. This is Mr. Schlie (Heinrich Schlie), from Hamburg. He will provide you with 300 visas for Columbia, but you must be ready to leave in three days." This Columbian matter was very interesting for me, because I had just joined the emigration service. We had to get people ready within three days. It was terrible. I got to work, without a break, and I spent virtually three days at my desk. And we ...
[Claude Lanzmann] When was this?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] In 1938. Autumn '38. I got to work. I did all I could, and people got ready.
[Claude Lanzmann] In three days? They sold up, abandoned their apartments.
We had passports issued. Everything!
[Benjamin Murmelstein] In three days.
[Claude Lanzmann] In three days?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] In three days. Everything.
[Claude Lanzmann] Completely? Even apartments?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Everything. They gave them away. They wanted to leave.
[Claude Lanzmann] They wanted to leave?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] They wanted to leave. After all that ...
we gave the passports to Mr. Schlie, and paid what he asked, because bribes had to be paid to obtain the visas. You understand?
And then, this Mr. Schlie brought us the passports, pocketed the money, and told us, "But the people cannot leave with these visas. They're not valid for Columbia." It was blatant fraud. He took the money, he wanted to plan group emigration ...
[Claude Lanzmann] They weren't genuine?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] The visas? They were visas but not the right ones. Invalid. The wrong visas.
[Claude Lanzmann] Eichmann knew that?
[Benjamin Murmelstein] Obviously! You understand? Following that, Mr. Schlie set up shop in Rome as the head of the Hanseatic Travel Bureau where he worked the following racket.
People in Vienna had the problem of the concentration camp. People held in a concentration camp could leave it by proving that they had an opportunity to emigrate. And many of them signed up for an illegal trip to Palestine. But then it turned out that an illegal trip to Palestine ...
could only be organized by the Hanseatic Travel Bureau. And of course the Hanseatic Travel Bureau has nothing at all to do with illegal trips to Palestine. They were simply swindled by Schlie, who was nothing other than Eichmann's accomplice. People had to pay him so much they had nothing left for the trip. Every man who ...