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Siegmunt Forst

Film | Digitized | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5004 | Film ID: 3119, 3120, 3121, 3122, 3123, 3124, 3823

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    Siegmunt Forst


    Siegmunt Forst escaped Vienna and moved to New York after the war broke out. He talks about his dealings with Rabbi Michael Weissmandel, a Slovakian Jew who tried desperately to tell the world what was happening to the European Jews. Weissmandel begged American Jewish leaders and others for money with which to bribe the Nazis. Lanzmann is interested in the individual and collective choices about whether to resist and/or to rescue, and in this interview and others he clearly views Weissmandel as an important figure.

    FILM ID 3119 -- Camera Rolls #12,14,15,17 -- 01:00:02 to 01:38:00
    Lanzmann asks Forst about when he first met Rabbi Michael Weissmandel. Forst explains that he did some calligraphy for a book that Weissmandel was publishing. He describes Weissmandel at length. Rabbi Weissmandel saw as early as 1938 that Hitler would take over Europe. He met with the Archbishop of Canterbury several times and tried to convince him to use his contacts with the Canadian government to allow Jews to emigrate there. Forst, a Viennese Jew, moved to New York shortly before the war broke out. As events in Europe progressed, letters and appeals for money from Weissmandel were read aloud in Forst's synagogue. [CLIP 1 BEGINS] Forst met Weissmandel again after the war when the rabbi came to Williamsburg. He was a completely broken man. Forst visited Weissmandel, who told him story after story about his experiences, which Forst found overwhelming. As an example, Forst tells the story of when Weissmandel jumped out of a train bound for Auschwitz, leaving his wife and children behind because they refused to come with him. Forst mentions that six months before his deportation Weissmandel publicized plans of Auschwitz that he obtained from two escapees. Forst further describes Weissmandel's manner when he met him after the war. Weissmandel saw Forst as a representative of those people who knew what was happening to the Jews, but simply went about their own business and did nothing. Forst says that Weissmandel halted the transports for many months with promises of money to the Nazis. He says that Weissmandel was the old-fashioned type of Jew who existed by bribing non-Jews and who knew that physical resistance was not possible [CLIP 1 ENDS].

    FILM ID 3120 -- Camera Rolls #18,19,21,22 -- 02:00:02 to 02:30:58
    Lanzmann asks Forst to return to the fact that Weissmandel saved himself and left his family behind. Forst says that this is the essence of Weissmandel's heroism. His natural drive would have been to go to his death with his family and he did the opposite. Lanzmann and Forst discuss this idea of heroism and its relationship to Judaism. Forst talks about Weissmandel's actions during the war. He mentions his dealings with Wisliceny and efforts which resulted in the delay of transports. Weissmandel thought that bribing the Nazis was the only way to save the Jews. At Lanzmann's urging, Forst revisits the subject of Weissmandel's mental condition after the war. He talks about how Weissmandel would go to the Bowery neighborhood where there were derelicts and people who lived on the street. Forst says, "Everybody who was outside this order attracted him, because he himself was outside this order." He describes a meeting between Weissmandel and Stephen Wise.

    FILM ID 3121 -- Camera Rolls #23,24,26 -- 03:00:03 to 03:32:04
    Forst talks about the meeting between Weissmandel and Steven Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress. Forst says that Weissmandel did not trust assimilationist or "non-authentic" Jews like Wise and Solly Meyer, the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Switzerland. Lanzmann and Forst talk about the assimilationist American approach to helping the Jews, which differed greatly from Weissmandel's efforts to bribe the Nazis and save Jews at any cost. [CLIP 2 BEGINS] Lanzmann asks Forst to explain the Europaplan, Weissmandel's plan to save the European Jews with bribes. Weissmandel presented his plan to Dieter Wisliceny who did not think the plan was feasible. Forst mentions the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and the Nazis' obsession with "international Jewry." Weissmandel tried to use the Nazis' fantasies of world Jewish conspiracy against them. Forst turns to Weissmandel's relations with the Catholic Church [CLIP 2 ENDS]. Weissmandel, hoping for help from the Vatican, went to the bishop of Nitra (Weissmandel's hometown), who told him that there is no such thing as innocent Jewish blood because the Jews killed Christ. He also went to the Papal Nuncio but did not receive help from him either.

    FILM ID 3122 -- Camera Rolls #27-30 -- 04:00:04 to 04:32:22
    Forst talks about the Yeshiva of Nitra, which operated underground during the war. Rabbi Weissmandel built another Yeshiva in Mount Kisko, New York after the war and the first students were sixty young survivors. Forst gives a number of examples of how Weissmandel devoted himself to helping people after the war. Forst and Lanzmann talk about the historical reasons for Christianity's enmity toward the Jews. Lanzmann asks about Weissmandel's opinion of Zionism and whether this opinion was changed by the Holocaust.

    FILM ID 3123 -- Camera Rolls #31,34-38 -- 05:00:06 to 05:29:10
    Forst talks about how both Germans and Jews have tried to forget the past. In German, this process of coming to terms with the past is called Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung. Forst says that because Weissmandel was a living reminder of this past, he was unpopular. Forst speculates about why the Jews did not physically resist when facing the gas chamber. He talks about the differences between how religious and non-religious Jews viewed the Holocaust and states, "The religious Jew doesn't question God, he questions man." Forst tells the story of Weissmandel's visits to the Bishop of Nitra and the Papal Nuncio in more detail.

    FILM ID 3124 -- Camera Rolls #13,16,33 -- 06:00:02 to 06:04:59
    Various clips including: Close-ups of Forst, a sketch of Forst (?) hanging on the wall, and photographs of Weissmandel and Forst (?)

    FILM ID 3823 – Camera Rolls NY 32,33 -- photos Weissmandel [32M,25M]
    Silent shots of photos of Weissmandel in the home of Forst. Two caricature drawings, CUs. 02:31 Bob. 215 (NY 25). Forst smoking, silent shots.