The Last of the Unjust – Director, Claude Lanzmann, Guest blog post by Cal Gutkin

The Last of the Unjust was too long (4 hours) but excellent – a riveting history of the Nazi ghettos and the ruthlessness of Eichmann and the Gestapo- but it differs from most accounts in that the story is told by and focused not on the Nazis or their victims who did not survive – but on one who did – Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein the chief Rabbi of Vienna when the Nazis occupied his city and destroyed every temple and every torah or other valued Jewish religious article they could find . Murmelstein was sent to a ghetto where he was appointed by the Nazis as   the “Jewish Elder”. the Nazis did this as one of many acts to camouflage what was really happening by making it appear as if their victims were really in charge of their own destinies in these ghettos when in reality these were nothing more than temporary stopovers for Jews then being packed up and herded onto trains taking them to the gas chambers . Murmelstein claimed he actually saved many lives by using a strategy that included making it seem he was befriending and assisting Eichmann and other Gestapo in some of their tasks and by carrying out many Nazi orders. While thousands were still exterminated, he says the need for his services and the trust that many of the Gestapo placed in him allowed him to spare the lives of many who would otherwise have perished. The price he paid for this was that he was seen by many of the Jews in the ghetto as being in collaboration with Eichmann and others in the Gestapo . He was the only Jewish Elder to not be killed by the Nazis and when he survived the war he had war crimes charges brought against him by other ghetto survivors. Although the courts exonerated him, his guilt remained steadfast in the minds of many of the ghetto survivors and the families of thousands who died. His story, documented  in this French subtitled film created by the producer/ director / narrator who is also a French Holocaust archivist , is an important addition to the history of WWII and the holocaust. But it should and could be edited to around 150 minutes max.

Cal Gutkin.

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