We don’t cover a lot of documentaries at ‘Movie Ramblings’ but ‘The Last of the Unjust’ is a remarkable film that is too important to ignore, a historical document that gives terrifying insight into one of the greatest true life horror stories the world has ever known: the genesis of the ‘Final Solution’, the Jewish Holocaust.

In 1941, at the height of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler gave a ‘gift’ to the Jewish people. He gave them a town, called Theresienstadt, promising that it would be a place of joy and respite from the war. All they would have to do to live there is surrender everything they had to the Nazis.

Thousands of Jews accepted this offer, but their dreams of idyllic perfection ended as soon as they stepped off the train. Theresienstadt, dubbed Adolf Eichmann’s ‘model ghetto’, was as much a brutal and overpopulated Hell as any other place their people had been sent to.

Claude Lanzmann’s extraordinary journey, filmed between 1975 and 2012, is essentially a beautifully-constructed series of interviews with one man, Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Chairman of the Theresienstadt Judenrat (Jewish Council) and the only ‘Elder of the Jews’ to have survived the Second World War. Murmelstein was a rabbi in Vienna when he first met and became invaluable to the SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann, not realising that he would spend the next seven years in almost daily conflict with a man who – this documentary makes clear – wasn’t ‘the banality of evil’ that history describes, but was a violent, corrupt, demoniacally fanatical anti-Semite. In fact, one of the many fascinating revelations in the film is that Eichmann (contrary to popular belief) was directly involved in the Kristallnacht, the pogrom against the Jews which took place in November 1938, killing far more than the ‘91+’ that was officially published, destroying Jewish businesses and razing synagogues across Austria and Nazi Germany to the ground.

Equally as fascinating is Murmelstein’s explanation of why Kristallnacht even took place – once again, it is not for the reasons history believes.

By the end of the war, Benjamin Murmelstein had helped more than 120,000 Jews flee to safety and, with intelligence and not always unselfish cunning, indirectly saved the lives of thousands of others by preventing the liquidation of the Theresienstadt ghetto. But to save the ghetto he had to ‘assist’ Eichmann in maintaining the lie that Theresienstadt was truly the ‘model’ the Nazis claimed it to be, and it is clear from the film that Murmelstein had to choose his battles wisely – both with Eichmann and with members of his own Jewish Council, who tried to ostracise him on a number of occasions. Murmelstein’s perceived ‘collaboration’ with Eichmann has caused many people to brand him a traitor, indeed the film’s title, “Last of the Unjust”, is exactly how Murmelstein describes himself, but what comes through extremely powerfully are the problematic and often dangerous choices Murmelstein had to make for the long-term survival of his people, and that survival undoubtedly turned upon keeping the ruse of Theresienstadt alive.

Claude Lanzmann, whose previous film ‘Shoah’ (plus four other films) is soon to be released in a sumptuous blu-ray edition by Eureka! Masters of Cinema, is a filmmaker and documentarian in a class beyond any other. Critics and audiences have long considered ‘Shoah’ to be one of the most moving and important films ever made and ‘The Last of the Unjust’ is easily its equal, standing beside ‘Shoah’ as a perfect companion piece, a monumental achievement, and an engrossing, disturbing, emotionally affecting and supremely honest portrait of a man who never tries to conceal his faults, his ego or make apology for his actions, but who has ultimately been misunderstood and misrepresented by modern history and whose role in the Jewish survival story deserves serious re-evaluation.

Do not miss this extraordinary work of humanity and cinema.

Movie Review: The Last Of The Unjust
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About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white