Advanced Search

Learn About The Holocaust

Special Collections

My Saved Research

Login

Register

Help

Skip to main content

Benjamin Murmelstein - Theresienstadt Judenaelteste

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5009 | Film ID: 3158, 3159, 3160, 3161, 3162, 3163, 3164, 3165, 3166, 3167, 3168, 3169, 3170, 3171, 3172, 3173, 3174, 3175, 3176, 3177, 3178, 3179, 3180, 3181, 3182, 3183, 3184, 3185, 3186, 3187, 3188, 3189, 3190, 3734

Benjamin Murmelstein, a rabbi and intellectual, worked closely with Adolf Eichmann in Vienna and became the last head of the Jewish Council in Theresienstadt. He defends his behavior against the many who have criticized him since the war and provides important details about the functioning of Eichmann's Central Office for Jewish Emigration. The sound on these tapes is problematic. Claude Lanzmann's questions are sometimes inaudible (they often do not appear in the transcripts). The audio sometimes outlasts the video image. The first few tapes show Murmelstein and Lanzmann outside on a balcony, then they move indoors. The sound levels are generally inconsistent. The interview takes place in Rome, where Murmelstein settled in 1947.

FILM ID 3158 -- Camera Rolls #22,23,24,26A -- 01:00:00 to 01:21:08
Murmelstein says that he is as happy in Rome as one who lives in exile can be. He talks about how hard it is to speak about the past and the Jews missing from Europe, Rome included. He says that Lanzmann has persuaded him of the importance of talking. Lanzmann says that Murmelstein has been silent for 30 years, which Murmelstein disputes, mentioning the book he wrote in 1961 called "Eichmann's Model Ghetto." He talks about the two films about Theresienstadt, one made in 1942 and one in 1944. He says that he was filmed for the second one but the scene was cut, which was a good thing. He says that he first saw the film on April 16, 1945 with Rudolf (Rezso) Kasztner. He states that the Nazis cut the scene in which he appeared because Eppstein also appeared in the scene and the Nazis had executed Eppstein. He says, "With a dead Jewish council chairman you can't make propaganda, can you?" He talks about Rumkowski (chairman of the Jewish council in the Lodz ghetto), who allowed himself to be called "King Chaim." He talks in mythical and religious terms, making reference to Roman myths, Christianity, Judaism, and fairy tales. At one point Lanzmann tells him that he himself is somewhat mythical because he was so hard to find, and people kept telling Lanzmann that Murmelstein was dead, or very old. Lanzmann tells Murmelstein that he is the last living Jewish council chairman. Murmelstein says he was not aware of this.

Murmelstein tells Lanzmann of his experiences immediately after the war. He says that he was supposed to survive so that he could tell fairy tales like the princess in 1001 Nights. The fairy tales he tells are about the Jewish paradise of Theresienstadt. He says that he told this tale until 5 April 1945 when the Red Cross came to Theresienstadt. On that day it was like the story of Little Red Riding Hood when the wolf dressed as the grandmother came out of the bed. Lanzmann tells Murmelstein that he is the last person who can talk about the Jewish council. Murmelstein says that being head of the Jewish council was like being between a hammer and an anvil, between the Germans and the Jews.

FILM ID 3159 -- Camera Rolls #27-29 -- 01:00:20 to 01:22:29
(The sound is flawed for the first 3 minutes or so. The audio is distorted and cuts out at one point. See 01:04:07 for restart with audio ok. Murmelstein's voice at the end of Roll 28 - 01:11:33 - does not correspond to the video.) Murmelstein became involved with the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde after the Anschluss in 1938 but he first came to political attention in about 1935 when he was a rabbi in the 20th district (which had the second largest Jewish population in Vienna) and gave a speech commemorating the 12,000 unknown Jewish soldiers who fought in World War I and who had been denigrated by Goebbels. His speech somehow got into the press. He was forced to organize and speak at a ceremony honoring the murdered Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss and his speech at the ceremony was fairly blatantly anti-Nazi. He tells of how he published a refutation of an antisemitic book written by a professor, and how another Nazi professor, at the request of Murmelstein, helped ensure that Jewish students were allowed to complete their final exams. He tells of how the Kultusgemeinde issued two appeals, one to the youth, and another stating that the Jewish community must protect their position and honor, but at the same time giving the message that the Jews must get out of Austria. ["Wir muessen weg."] He was given the task of writing both of these appeals which was difficult because of state censorship, but somehow he succeeded. 01:16:30 He tells of first meeting Eichmann in summer 1938. He says he was assigned to write reports about emigration for Eichmann, despite the fact that he knew little about the topic. He asserts that Eichmann was no expert (specialist) in the topic, despite what was said in Jerusalem (at Eichmann's trial). Murmelstein goes on to discount a book by Israel Harel, who arrested Eichmann, in which it was reported that he (Murmelstein) taught Eichmann Hebrew. Murmelstein says that Eichmann had no knowledge of Hebrew and only a superficial knowledge of emigration, all of which he learned from Murmelstein.

FILM ID 3160 -- Camera Roll #30 -- 01:00:02 to 01:11:31
Extreme close-ups of Murmelstein's face. Murmelstein continues to talk about his relationship with Eichmann and how he tried to maintain some distance from him. He tells of a meeting in Berlin and how Eichmann burst into Murmelstein's office on 10 November 1938 (Kristallnacht) carrying a revolver. He complains that the verdict against Eichmann in Jerusalem did not include a conviction for Eichmann's participation in Kristallnacht. He saw Eichmann personally commanding destruction on 9-10 November. He goes on to say that Kristallnacht had nothing to do with Herschel Grynszpan's assassination of Ernst vom Rath, but that 10 November was the anniversary of the founding of the Weimar Republic, the so-called Jewish republic, and was thus always an opportunity for anti-Jewish propaganda. Hitler himself had said that the Jews would pay for the Weimar Republic. The audio continues for several seconds after the video stops.

FILM ID 3161 -- Camera Rolls #31-32 -- 04:00:05 to 04:22:35
The discussion of the Eichmann trial continues. Lanzmann wonders why Murmelstein was not called to testify and Murmelstein says that for some reason they did not find him a credible witness. He says that he protested when he read in the paper that Eichmann had testified that the only Jewish representative who had not agreed with Nisko was Murmelstein. [Nisko was a plan, never realized, to solve the "Jewish problem" by settling Jews in an area around Lublin] Murmelstein felt compelled to protest on behalf of the dead Jewish representatives. He mentions Hannah Arendt and others who got a false impression of Eichmann from the trial. He says that the most important jurist in Rome, Carnelutti, wrote that Eichmann's trial was the second trial of Jerusalem, referring to the crucifixion of Christ. Murmelstein's reply, published in a Jewish newspaper, was that Jesus was crucified with two criminals and Carnelutti was crucifying him again with a criminal. He talks about Eichmann's involvement in schemes to steal money from the Jews in return for false promises of emigration. 04:11:27 CR 32 Murmelstein himself had opportunities to emigrate, as did other leaders of the Jewish community, but they did not leave. He traveled to London twice in 1939 but did not stay. In June 1939 he received certificates to travel to Palestine with his wife but he gave them to another family. Last few seconds of the audio drops out.

FILM ID 3162 -- Camera Rolls #33-34 -- 05:00:05 to 05:22:37
Lanzmann and Murmelstein continue to discuss the "spirit of adventure" [Abenteuerlust] that kept Murmelstein from emigrating. He felt like his work in getting Jews out of Vienna was going well. He mentions the success of the Jewish refugee camp in Kent Richborough in England. He took personal risks (once, for example, he issued visas that he knew were not valid) and he also felt a personal satisfaction at being able to help people get out of Austria. He addresses the fact that people have accused him of abusing his power and mentions that the Encyclopedia Judaica accuses him of this. He denies that he did so and says that he was just trying to help people, although he says that of course people are human and power has a certain feeling. He then discusses the escape of Jews to China via the trans-Siberian railroad in 1940. Chinese officials stole money from the Jews but somehow Murmelstein managed to prevent this from continuing. Audio cuts out from 05:11:29 to 05:11:50, when roll 34 starts. He states that once the war started they couldn't get money from the American JDC any more. He discovered that the Reichsvereinigung had a dollar account in Harbin, from which he took money to enable a train of Austrian Jews to leave China. When Eppstein, in Berlin, found out about this he was upset with Murmelstein. Murmelstein told him that if they both survived Murmelstein would convince the Joint to give Eppstein his dollars. Murmelstein tells of his first falling out with Loewenherz and with the Joint. He describes it as the first occasion where people abroad begin to speak about him.
Murmelstein explains something of the way in which the Kultusgemeinde dealt with money: they collected Reichsmarks and changed them to dollars, which was the currency used to buy passage on ships. Loewenherz was in charge of the budget and therefore had a lot of money concentrated in his hands. A doctor in the Jewish community had obtained passage for himself, his wife and his 90 year old mother-in-law on a ship. Murmelstein didn't think it was right to use a place on a ship for a 90 year old, but it wasn't his decision. On the day the ship was to sail the doctor came to him and said he was not sailing on the ship because he hadn't sold his house yet. Murmelstein was appalled: places on ships were very precious and he could not fill the three places on such short notice. The doctor demanded more money from the Kultusgemeinde The audio drops out from 05:22:12 to 05:22:37, which is the end of the tape.

FILM ID 3163 -- Camera Rolls #35-36 -- 06:00:05 to 06:20:31
Murmelstein continues with the story about the doctor. Murmelstein informed the doctor that he, the doctor, would be responsible should he not use the three spaces on the ship and since the ship was sailing under the auspices of the SS.... The doctor quickly decided to leave, but not without complaining about Murmelstein to Loewenherz and the Joint subsequently heard about the incident as well. Murmelstein tells Lanzmann that even in 1941 he sometimes managed to help people emigrate who had already been designated for deportation. He tells of a particular case in which he managed to save a man who had shown Alois Brunner, Eichmann's assistant, a letter of exemption [Empfehlung] from Goering, which was as good as a death sentence, given the relations between Himmler and Goering. Murmelstein managed to outsmart a junior SS officer and the man escaped deportation. He also talks of two other Empfehlungen, one from Goebbels for the brother-in-law of (the composer) Franz Lehar, and an oral Empfehlung from Hitler for Dr. Bloch, who had treated Hitler's father.

Murmelstein discusses the deportations from Germany, which began in October 1940, and states again that Eichmann was not banal and that he had the power to carry out his threats. Lanzmann asks about the founding of the Zentralstelle fuer Juedische Auswanderung. Murmelstein says that the Zentralstelle was an "Art Golem." It was created for a certain purpose but soon grew out of control and became an instrument of destruction. Murmelstein says that things were much worse for the Jews of Vienna than for German Jews, and that Goering had made statements that 300,000 Jews should be deported from Vienna within two years, despite the fact that there were never that many Jews in Vienna. Lanzmann asks him why Goering used this false number, and Murmelstein replies that it was propaganda, that the Nazis had talked so long of the "Verjudung" of Vienna that in the end they believed their own lies. Murmelstein details how hard it was for Jews to pay all the fees and taxes they needed to pay in order to emigrate and says that this lead to the founding of the Zentralstelle. Lanzmann asks whose idea was the Zentrallstelle and Murmelstein replies that the idea sprang from necessity ["Es hat sich von selbst ergeben"]. Murmelstein says something about how his department managed to lower the required taxes and fees, or obscure the fact that they had not been paid.

FILM ID 3164 -- Camera Roll #37 -- 07:00:03 to 07:11:12
Murmelstein says that employees of the Zentralstelle carefully watched and reported on the Germans. He says that Eichmann and the Gestapo competed for power and money and the Jews were in the middle. The Gestapo was not happy that Eichmann controlled the deportations of the Jews, because there was money to be made. He says that although he would be the last person to say a good word about Eichmann, working with him allowed Murmelstein to accomplish certain goals (saving people from deportation or getting them released from camps). He says that Loewenherz did not get things done in a timely manner and that Eichmann could not stand Engel. Murmelstein tells of how Eichmann continued to threaten and squeeze money out of the Jewish community. At one point, a law was passed dissolving the Kultusgemeinde in Innsbrueck and declaring it to be an enemy organization ("Reichfeindlich"). This disturbed Murmelstein greatly because he saw it as an escalation of persecution and he went to Loewenherz to see what could be done. He found Loewenherz unhelpful and decided to undertake measures on his own.

FILM ID 3165 -- Camera Rolls #38-39 -- 01:00:05 to 01:29:56
In hopes of finding some way to reverse the dissolution of the Innsbrueck Kultusgemeinde, Murmelstein studied Nazi law and filed a petition arguing that it was not possible under Nazi law for the Kultusgemeinde to be declared "Reichfeindlich." The petition reached Eichmann, and some time later the law was repealed. After much thought Murmelstein came to the conclusion that Eichmann helped him because if the Kultusgemeinde was declared illegal, it and the money it generated would be removed from his control. Lanzmann compliments Murmelstein on his memory and asks about the reason behind the creation of the Judenraete and the Judenaeltesten. Murmelstein explains that there were Judenaelteste in German Jewish history, but that the Nazis meant to degrade the Jews by giving them these titles, which sounded tribal and "third world." Lanzmann asks him about the Nazis' interest in "Judenwissenschaft" and Murmelstein says that they were ignorant of Hebrew and the meaning of ritual objects, even as they (Rosenberg, for example) confiscated them.

Murmelstein ended up giving Hebrew lessons to several Nazis and he is ambivalent about these men. One of them was his professor, Christian, who helped Jewish students at the University to get their degrees after the Nazis took power. Another was Dr. Jungreitmeier, whom Murmelstein rebuked strongly for the execution of a Jewish partisan. Jungreitmeier began to cry at Murmelstein's words and the two men became friends. His students even attempted to get him returned to Vienna once he was deported to Theresienstadt but they were not successful. However, word of his classes had spread and three or four trucks full of Jewish books arrived at Theresienstadt, in order for Murmelstein to create a bibliography. He turned this task over to a man named Dr. Munalis from Prague. Murmelstein was instructed by the Germans to remove the names of the people who owned the books, but he told Dr. Munalis not to do this. When Kellner, the Nazi who had given the order, showed up to see how the work was going, Murmelstein managed to distract him to the point that the man never actually opened a book to look at it. Murmelstein then turns to the question, which Lanzmann had asked him, of how he came to be hated in Theresienstadt. A man named Dr. Nuernberger happened to be visiting at the time Kellner came to view the bibliography's progress. He mistook Murmelstein's talkativeness with the Nazi and the looks between Dr. Munalis and Murmelstein after Kellner's departure, as sycophancy and arrogance. The audio continues for almost ten minutes after the video stops from 01:22:45 to 01:31:50.

FILM ID 3166 -- Camera Rolls #40-41-- 09:00:05 to 09:22:40
Lanzmann asks Murmelstein about a report he wrote in 1940 at Eichmann's behest. The report discussed the feasibility of a Jewish state as a solution to the "Jewish problem." Murmelstein asserts that he did indeed write this report, which was presented as the Loewenherz report at the Eichmann trial. At the time he did not know that Eichmann was working on the Madagascar plan. Lanzmann asks Murmelstein whether he was a Zionist, which Murmelstein does not answer directly at first. Murmelstein defends his report and himself against the charge that Gideon Hausner made in his book, "Justice in Jerusalem," that both Rumkowski and Murmelstein were tools or marionettes of the Nazis. Murmelstein takes exception to this, saying that at that time Hitler ruled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caucasus yet Murmelstein still had the courage to suggest in this report that whatever power ended up controlling the Mediterranean had the duty to establish Palestine as the homeland of the Jews. Lanzmann corrects him, saying that in 1940 Hitler had not reached the Caucasus. Murmelstein agrees that this is true and continues trying to explain that he could not simply tell Eichmann, no, I want nothing to do with you. CR 41 09:11:29 Lanzmann returns to the report, asking how long it was and whether it relied on Herzl's ideas. Murmelstein derides Arendt's reading of the report and insists that his idea of a Jewish state was Palestine, although he could not state that plainly in the report. He says that had he known that Eichmann was thinking about Madagascar he wouldn't have written the report. Murmelstein and Lanzmann continue to discuss Madagascar for some time. Murmelstein says, and Lanzmann agrees, that Madagascar became code for the Final Solution. Theresienstadt, says Murmelstein, was also a code or method for hiding the true goal of the Germans.

FILM ID 3167 -- Camera Rolls #42-43 -- 01:00:23 to 01:22:53
Close-up on Murmelstein's notes. The sound is better on this tape than on previous tapes - you can hear Lanzmann's questions better, although the volume is still lower than on Murmelstein's answers. They continue to talk about Madagascar and Nisko. Murmelstein says that Bonnet told Ribbentrop that the French needed Madagascar for their own Jews. Then the English occupied Madagascar. Murmelstein says that they used Birobidjan as a model for Nisko. Lanzmann asks Murmelstein to explain about Nisko and Murmelstein says that he never thought of Nisko as a solution, that even Eichmann said that all the Jewish representatives were in favor of Nisko, except Murmelstein. Murmelstein traveled to Nisko at the behest of Eichmann's deputy, Guenther. Murmelstein told Guenther that further emigration should be attempted rather than concentration of the Jews in Nisko. Guenther told Murmelstein that he was turning down a chance to be the king of the Jews. 01:11:42 CR 43 Lanzmann asks Murmelstein why he was offered the position as king of the Jews and not Edelstein or the others. Murmelstein replies that it was quite simply because he had known Eichmann the longest and that Eichmann knew he worked in the emigration department and knew how to organize things. He says that nonetheless, after the research he did on Madascar, Eichmann wrote him off, and for this reason he arrived in Theresienstadt as just a normal Jew, "ohne Auftrag," and that it was only at the last moment that he was named (to the Council?). He explains that the leaders in Vienna worked well together and did not engage in power struggles like they did in Berlin and Prague. He says that he arranged, with Eichmann and Brunner, to allow 500 Jews [Glaubensjuden] to stay in Vienna, where they remained free until the end of the war. He says that Brunner attempted to play him and Loewenherz off against each other by offering him (Murmelstein) the power to make the deportation lists alone, but Murmelstein refused. The camera pulls back to reveal that Lanzmann is reading one of Murmelstein's documents, which Murmelstein describes as a petition written by Loewenherz, that shows how Loewenherz pleaded that another man (Prochnik) be sent to Nisko in Murmelstein's place. He means to show that Loewenherz supported him at the time. He says he never would have allowed Prochnik to go in his place. Lanzmann reads aloud from the document, in which Loewenherz describes how necessary Murmelstein is to the functioning of the Kultusgemeinde, including counting the Jews of Vienna, etc. Murmelstein explains that it was important to be necessary, because then nothing would happen to you. However at that moment he was not necessary to Eichmann. Eichmann had put together a transport to Poland without the help of Murmelstein, which convinced him that he did not need Murmelstein [Murmelstein fooled Eichmann in that instance?] Lanzmann continues to read from the document and the camera comes in close on Murmelstein's face. Murmelstein replies, speaking over Lanzmann, that Loewenherz wanted to rescue him at any price.

FILM ID 3168 -- Camera Rolls #44-45 -- 11:00:04 to 11:22:24
Murmelstein tells Lanzmann about when Loewenherz was sent to Theresienstadt as chairman of the Jewish Council. Murmelstein protested but to no avail, and he himself was sent to Nisko. He went in a "sondercoupe" with other Jewish representatives. They stopped in Krakow and he was appalled at the "dead eyes" of the religious Jews he saw there at forced labor. He says that the train stopped far from Nisko and they were forced to march for two days. The next day they arrived for roll call in the town of Sanjietce (Saniecze), where Eichmann spoke. He told them a camp would be built in that location. Eichmann said that the springs around the area were infested with typhus so they would have to get a new source of water because drinking the infected water could mean death. As he said it he smiled in a way that has always stuck with Murmelstein. 11:11:15 CR 45 Murmelstein tells Lanzmann that when Eichmann stated before the court in Jerusalem that he did not give such a speech to the Jews at Nisko he was quite correct, that he actually gave the speech in Sanjietce (Saniecze), which was 12 km from Nisko. Murmelstein was there and saw it for himself, and the speech was described in his book on Thersienstadt. The prosecutors at Eichmann's trial did not bother to read his book. He relates other instances of Eichmann's cruelty, including one which resulted in a family of three committing suicide, and he calls Eichmann a demon.

FILM ID 3169 -- Camera Rolls #46-47 -- 12:00:03 to 12:23:10
The first 4 or so minutes of this tape show extreme close-ups on Lanzmann as he smiles and laughs. He appears to be listening to Murmelstein speak but there is no audio until a few minutes in. When CR 46 starts at 12:04:30, Murmelstein returns to Eichmann's speech in Nisko, or "more accurately Saniecze," which he describes as a foreshadowing of the Final Solution. He says that for the Jews in Nisko the only door left open was escape to the USSR, and that the Soviet soldiers allowed this to happen. However, this was only a possibility for those who were young and fit. The oldest suffered the most during deportations, but it was nonetheless desired by the Jewish Council that the eldest should be deported in favor of the young. Lanzmann attempts to draw Murmelstein further on this, asking whether this was "Edelstein Politik." Murmelstein explains that Edelstein had a lot of guilt toward the Czech Jews, who had trusted him when they came to Theresienstadt. In some cases Mischlinge [people of mixed parentage] came to Theresienstadt when they would have been safe in Prague. Edelstein had been lied to by Guenther in Prague, but he felt guilty nonetheless. Video is missing from 12:11:12 to 12:11:59, when the next reel begins. During his stay in Nisko Murmelstein and a group of other Jews were sent to Lublin. They were given passports and letters of passage that did not identify them as Jews, which was good because a pogrom happened in Lublin while they were there. After 10 days they were sent back to Nisko, which Murmelstein realized later was because the planned settlement at Nisko was now obsolete. Nonetheless, it was a step down the path toward the final solution.

FILM ID 3170 -- Camera Rolls #48-49 -- 13:00:04 to 13:22:47
Although Goering and others feared America's reaction to Nisko, they found that the entire episode was ignored by the world. Thus the plans to dispose of the Jews progressed. Lanzmann asks Murmelstein what he personally thought of the Nazis' plans after the experience of Nisko, to which Murmelstein replies that he knew it would be certain death for old people to be deported to Nisko and he was determined to prevent that. Lanzmann tries to draw him more on the subject of what he thought the Nazis had planned for the Jews, but Murmelstein insists on telling his story and says that he had no time to think about such things, he had time only to act. The deportations from Vienna started again in October 1941. Murmelstein describes the Jewish council as marionettes but finally he refused to gather people for deportations and Brunner had the idea to make the selections himself. Lanzmann asks him about the Jewish police (Judenpolizei or Jupo) and Murmelstein said they had nothing to do with the Kultusgemeinde. Lanzmann asks if these police were really brutal and Murmelstein says that they were and that he once arranged for a group of them to be deported to the east. 13:11:17 CR 49 There is some static in the audio. Murmelstein returns to the subject of Brunner's selections. The Kultusgemeinde received lists containing names, addresses, and ages of those to be deported. Murmelstein cut from the lists those who were older than 55 or were ill, then called Brunner for more names to be added. Murmelstein explains that his thinking was that while it was bad to be deported, the deportations did not mean automatic death for those who were healthy. Brunner finally caught on and Murmelstein explained that if Brunner ordered work transports he could not send old or ill people. In answer to a question, Murmelstein states that he did not know that the transports were extermination transports. He thought the final destination would be something like Nisko. To further his point, he states that in Lodz, which he makes a point of calling Litzmannstadt, the chairman of the council was not aware for several months that a deportation of Jews from the ghetto went to Chelmno. The Jews were deported in spring 1942 and the chairman first became aware that the destination was Chelmno in October. Only Moses Maren, of Sosnowiece, had an idea of what was happening. Even if they had known, what could they have done? Lanzmann points out that this is a very important question, to which Murmelstein replies that there was nothing they could have done, except perhaps kill themselves, like Czerniakow (the head of the Jewish council in the Warsaw ghetto), but more importantly, Murmelstein says, Parnes in Lemberg [Lvov]. Lanzmann asks what Murmelstein thinks of this, and Murmelstein replies that it was not his way, that his way was to save as many Jews as he could (he again names specific occasions where he saved Jews).

FILM ID 3171 -- Camera Rolls #50-52 -- 14:00:04 to 14:22:44
Murmelstein says that although he was called a tool of the Nazis by Gideon Hausner, he was able to prevent a death march from Theresienstadt which Hitler ordered in 1944. At Lanzmann's prompting, Murmelstein tells a long story about a baker whom he supposedly mishandled. He says that the baker faked a nervous breakdown. He talks again about trying to save the old people in Vienna and in Theresienstadt, and Eichmann's treachery. CR 51 14:11:21 He describes the Judenaelteste as being like the ass in the story, which is constantly running to catch the hay that is always just out of his reach. Eichmann agreed that the elderly would not be deported to the East but would stay in an old age home in Theresienstadt. However, the Jupo went to the old people, who did not know about Eichmann's order, and demanded money or else they would be deported. Murmelstein reported this to Brunner. When he himself was deported, a Jupo man escorted him. He tells Lanzmann this in order to illustrate that the Kultusgemeinde and the Jupo did not get along. Audio and video do not match 14:15:46 to 14:16:23. CR 52 14:16:24 Murmelstein says that during the years 1941 and 1942 he protested strongly against the deportations and argued that the Jews should be housed and concentrated in Vienna. Edelstein in Prague, during the same period, argued for the establishment of a ghetto. He describes the ghetto Thersienstadt and the Small Fortress, which was overseen by the worst type of SS men. Edelstein had been promised and in turn promised his people that they would be allowed to make Hachshara (go to Palestine) from Theresienstadt, which was not true. However, Edelstein also saw that Theresienstadt was important for propaganda, in order for the Germans to save face.

FILM ID 3172 -- Camera Rolls #53-54 -- 15:00:04 to 15:22:55
Murmelstein talks about Theresienstadt as a cover for Auschwitz. He was deported to Theresienstadt in January 1943 as part of the final "Entjudung" (removal of Jews) of Vienna, which was accomplished on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Nazi seizure of power and to deflect attention from other bad news for the Germans, such as Stalingrad and the landing of the Allies in North Africa. The deportation of the prominent Jews, such as himself, symbolized this Entjudung. He talks about the various categories used to designate the Jews; he was category A, as was Leo Baeck. He mentions a book by Friedlander which misrepresented Baeck's deportation number, because everything about Baeck's story should be tragic. Baeck had two rooms for himself and his housekeeper, and was never required to do forced labor. He says that even the Jews eventually believed the lies of the Nazis. He becomes quite exercised as he says that he read about a group of Jews who said, at a celebration of the 30th anniversary of liberation, that they were prepared to mount resistance but it was the Jewish Council who hindered their activities. The last bit of the reel has no image but the audio continues. CR 54 15:11:53 Murmelstein has read with astonishment since the war of all sorts of people who were actually resistance fighters. He says there were no weapons, no secret radio stations in Theresienstadt. He is not surprised by anything he reads. Lanzmann asks him what he thinks about Jews who wanted resistance, in principle, and he replies that the symbol of the resistance is Warsaw. Aryan Warsaw rose as one man in 1944 but when the ghetto rose in 1943 nobody in Aryan Warsaw paid any attention. One must be at the point of committing suicide to attempt an uprising, which is a point that Warsaw reached but Theresienstadt didn't. He says that he carried a vial of poison but could not use it, nor could Eppstein, even after he was arrested. Lanzmann asks at what point he would have killed himself and he says if they had built gas chambers in Theresienstadt, or Hitler's order of the death march had been carried out. Lanzmann asks him about the enterprise of cleaning up the city (Verschoenerung). He replies that it was a lie but one that could be used to advantage. Murmelstein explains the phases Theresienstadt went through: the Reichsaltersheim, which was liquidated, the childrens' home, when the children from Bialystok and Hong Kong arrived, then a center for foreign Jews, with the arrival of the Dutch, the Danish, and the expected eventual arrival of the English Jews. When the Danes tried to protect their Jews, the order was given for the Verschoenerung, so that a Danish contingent could visit the camp. Murmelstein explains his differences with the council "triumvirate." He disagreed with Edelstein regarding available spots on a transport to Palestine.

FILM ID 3173 -- Camera Rolls #55-56 -- 16:00:04 to 16:22:30
Murmelstein says that Eichmann told him quite a lot about Theresienstadt before he was sent there. At the last minute, he was appointed by Brunner to be Eppstein's deputy. He describes his arrival in Theresienstadt in some detail, and the awkwardness between him and Edelstein and Eppstein, with whom he had previous conflicts. Nobody was aware that he had been named deputy. The two other men assigned him to two departments, Health and Technical, where he could not be expected to accomplish very much. Nonetheless he was able to establish an acceptable method for delousing people. CR 56 16:11:20 He continues with the story of the delousing problem. In fixing the problem, he further alienated Eppstein and others, but he did manage to ensure that the older people were deloused and cared for. He tells of how the three of them, although at odds, managed to ensure that people were immunized against typhus by withholding rations unless they were immunized. He was blamed for this.

FILM ID 3174 -- Camera Rolls #57-58 -- 17:00:03 to 17:22:28
Lanzmann says that it is quite clear to him that Murmelstein loved power. Murmelstein replies that Lanzmann is just trying to make him angry. The one rule for the Judenaelteste was that you be necessary (to the Nazis). Once you became superfluous it was the end. Lanzmann says that people have written that he was ambitious, to which Murmelstein answers that he cannot rebut every stupid thing that people write about him. He lists several lies that he has read about himself. Lanzmann says that he was hated, and Murmelstein says that he refused special treatment to a Gettowachmann who came to him to try and get in touch with his wife who had been deported. This angered Eppstein. The camera pulls in very close on his face as he speaks. He tells another story about a transport of women who arrived at Theresienstadt to discover that their husbands were not with them, only to be harassed by drunk SS men. Murmelstein had to handle the problem on his own and ends the story by saying, "You ask why I was hated, what could a beloved Gettoaeltester have done?" CR 58 17:11:23 He says that Leo Baeck wanted to play a leading role in the ghetto but he was dangerous because he was senile. After a story about replacing the men of the Gettowache with women, he says that Eppstein attempted to help the man whom Murmelstein wouldn't help by arranging for all of those who wanted to be in touch by mail with their wives to sign up. Only those who followed Murmelstein's orders not to do so escaped deportation. He tells a long story about how he isolated a group of people who returned from Auschwitz after the war with barbed wire, because there was a typhus epidemic and there was no vaccine until the Russians arrived. A man called Neumann wrote a book in which he claimed that Murmelstein kept the people behind barbed wire because he was afraid of their anger at him.

FILM ID 3175 -- Camera Rolls #59-60 -- 18:00:02 to 18:22:32
18:00:03 No audio. Shots of Murmelstein speaking; shots of a photo of him and Eppstein in a book Lanzmann is holding. 18:03:07 Lanzmann asks about the liquidation of Eppstein. Eppstein came to Murmelstein in 1944, quite pleased, and said that the Nazis were sending him to Portugal. Murmelstein advised him to turn down the assignment. In the same week Hans Guenther told Murmelstein he could leave for Palestine. Murmelstein said no, because he did not trust Guenther and thought that his wife and child would not be allowed to go with him. He later found out that this was all happening during the time that Joel Brand was sent to Constantinople on Eichmann's orders. He talks of Eppstein's Rosh Hashanah speech and says that Hannah Szenes's mission was hopeless from the beginning. He says that Lodz was liquidated in August 1944 and the only thing that kept Thersienstadt from being liquidated at that point was that the Nazis wanted to finish the film. But Theresienstadt, like Lodz was due to be liquidated. Eppstein had more trust in the SS man Moess than in his own Jewish colleagues. CR 60 18:11:15 Eppstein was of no more use to the SS, so Moess set a trap for him. After his Rosh Hashanah speech, Eppstein was told he must admit that there were spies (who had parachuted in, like Hannah Szenes) hidden in the ghetto. Murmelstein is of the opinion that the text of the speech was agreed upon with Moess beforehand. Eichmann informed Murmelstein that he would change places with Eppstein, who was at another ghetto. Murmelstein knew what that meant because he knew that Eppstein was already dead. Guenther insisted on keeping him until after the Red Cross visit.

FILM ID 3176 -- Camera Rolls #61-62 -- 19:00:00 to 19:22:31
Transports from Theresienstadt had begun before Murmelstein took over from Eppstein. He criticizes Eppstein and Edelstein, who exempted certain people and replaced them with others, sometimes more people than were necessary. People in the ghetto did not want to believe what happened at Auschwitz. They knew only of the family camp there and that Auschwitz was worse than Theresienstadt. The people in the ghetto did not learn the truth about Auschwitz until they were told by Slovakians in the summer of 1944. Murmelstein again criticizes Leo Baeck. He says that when the Danish Jews arrived in 1943 they reacted strongly to the smell of gas in their newly disinfected barracks. This should have been a warning but the inhabitants of Theresienstadt did not take it seriously. Murmelstein insisted that there be no more exemptions and replacements on the transports, and for this reason Karl Rahm agreed to exempt some people without replacement, thus sending fewer people to Auschwitz. Lanzmann reads a quotation from Jacob Gens of Vilna. Murmelstein says that the two situations were completely different. He goes on to say that elsewhere Jewish organizations pulled a scam where they rented rooms in Theresienstadt, advertising them as having baths, or being on the sunny side of the building. The money ended up going to Eichmann. Murmelstein says that this did not happen in Vienna and nor did the Jewish leaders participate in organizing deportations from Vienna.

FILM ID 3177 -- Camera Rolls #63,65 -- 20:00:05 to 20:14:07
Murmelstein continues to defend the actions of the Kultusgemeinde in Vienna, saying that they did not help with the deportations nor did they lie to the Jews about conditions in Theresienstadt. Murmelstein says that he also refused to prepare deportation lists in Theresienstadt, despite threats from the SS. He points out that Theresienstadt was the only ghetto that was not liquidated and he deserves some credit for that. The filming moves outside in front of the Titus Arch, apparently at Murmelstein's request. Zdenek Lederer, another Theresienstadt survivor, compared Murmelstein to Flavius, who collaborated with the Romans, and to Herod. Murmelstein wrote a book about Flavius.

FILM ID 3178 -- Camera Rolls #63A,64,64A,65AM -- 21:00:03 to 21:11:20
Mute shots of Murmelstein outside near the Arch of Titus.

FILM ID 3179-- Camera Rolls #66-67 -- 22:00:00 to 22:22:24
[Sound is bad at the beginning of the tape but then improves] Filming outside in front of the Arch of Titus, Lanzmann reads a quote from Lederer about Murmelstein and Josefus Flavius. Murmelstein wants to move on from this topic and says he can't be responsible for everything that was ever written about him. Nonetheless, they continue to discuss Flavius. Murmelstein returns again to the class he taught in Vienna in 1942. His students were university faculty members who were also Nazis. He gave eight or ten of them weekly lessons in Judaism. He showed them a Tallith and explained the significance of it. He also showed them where it had been damaged during Kristallnacht.

He says that he can be condemned but not judged, that the Judenaelteste should not have survived the war, they are an uncomfortable remnant, like dinosaurs on the Autobahn. He compares himself to Scheherezade, saying that had the duty to report the tale of the "Judenparadies" (Theresienstadt]. He says that reports of his death were "wishful thinking" by those whom he witnessed in uncomfortable situations during the war. They wanted to believe that he, who had seen them at their worst, was dead. Lanzmann says that he read a quote from Murmelstein in a Swiss newspaper where he called himself "der letzte der Ungerechten." Murmelstein thinks that the Israelis still practice "Judenratpolitik." He mentions the Bermuda Conference (April 1943). Lanzmann asks him who has the right to judge him and he says the Czech court of Leitmeritz. Lanzmann asks why he was arrested and he says that being a Judenaelteste was reason enough. After eight months the prosecutor declared that he could find no evidence against him.

FILM ID 3180 -- Camera Rolls #68-69 -- 23:00:00 to 23:22:23
Filming outside in front of the Arch of Titus, Murmelstein describes Rahm's trial and makes the point that he was considered a reliable witness in the trial. He says that despite the fact that he testified against Rahm, Rahm told an interviewer that Murmelstein was not a traitor and did not denounce anyone. This exoneration was never published.

Lanzmann asks why Murmelstein came to Rome instead of to Israel, to which Murmelstein answers that he was afraid of being tried again. He says that he worked hard at lowly jobs, even though he didn't need to because people offered him money. He was accused of converting to Christianity, which was the only accusation that really hurt him.

Lanzmann says that (Gershon or Gerhard) Scholem wrote that Murmelstein should have been hanged. Murmelstein replies that Scholem is a great scholar but does not always do his research. He says there are many sources about Murmelstein: the Red Cross archive, the Rahm trial, the Murmelstein trial, the Eichmann trial. He points out that Scholem was one of those who protested against Eichmann's execution. He says that he does not believe that his portrayal in Lanzmann's film will change the minds of those who are already against him. Lanzmann asks him why he agreed to be interviewed, and after referring to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, he says that he has a spirit of adventure and is not fearful of talking about his public position.

FILM ID 3181 -- Camera Rolls #65A,62AM,69A -- 14:30:03 to 14:30:56 and 14:32:32 to 14:33:51
Mute reverse angle shots of Lanzmann. Mute shots of Murmelstein walking along the streets of Rome.

FILM ID 3182 -- Camera Rolls #71-72 -- 01:30:04 to 01:48:18
Murmelstein talks about his life in Rome, beginning in 1947. He was boycotted and otherwise persecuted, but he persevered. Lanzmann asks Murmelstein how he feels about threats to Israel or whether he is happy when Israel wins wars. Murmelstein says of course he is happy but he disputes the basis for asking such questions.

He refuses "with indignation" to answer whether he thought he would have made a good leader in Israel. Murmelstein says that the Judenaelteste were so hated because all of the Jews' dealings with the Nazis went through the Judenaelteste. He says he introduced the 70 hour work week because the ghetto was in ruins after the October deportations. The 70 hour work week was his idea and he did not blame it on Rahm. Murmelstein says his philosophy was to keep people working and keep the ghetto in order, which Lanzmann likens to the philosophy of Rumkowski and Gens of Vilna.

TAPE 3183 -- Camera Rolls #73-74 -- 02:30:02 to 02:52:30
Murmelstein talks about his policy of allowing births in the ghetto; he allowed them and Eppstein did not. Thirteen of the children who were born in Theresienstadt survived. Lanzmann says that when Murmelstein speaks of Theresienstadt he does not get a feeling of the misery and desperation of the place, only of the organizational details. Murmelstein says that his worst memory was of clearing the urns in the Columbarium, which contained the ashes of the dead. He knew this meant the Germans were planning to liquidate the ghetto.

He says that despite what people think now, there was a top secret plan to build gas chambers in Theresienstadt, and when he heard about the plan he went to Rahm to tell him that the Jews would revolt at the mention of gas chambers. Rahm called off the plan. Murmelstein lied to Rahm about who told him about the gas chambers -- he gave the name of Rahm's favorite instead of the person who actually told him, knowing that Rahm would not punish his favorite. He frames this as a typical dlilemma that faced a Judenaelteste. Murmelstein says that Rahm admitted at his sentencing that there had been a plan to install gas chambers at Theresienstadt, for the liquidation of the Small Fortress (kleine Festung).

FILM ID 3184 -- Camera Rolls #75-76 -- 03:30:05 to 03:52:24
Lanzmann asks Murmelstein whether he was anti-democratic and had a fascist temperament. Murmelstein answers that he disapproved of the first and the second Jewish councils, and that he closed the courts. He makes the argument that the Jewish council, whose members were named by the SS, was itself anti-democratic. These members and their friends and families were protected from deportation. He explains some of his disagreements with the members of the first council and describes some of the ridiculous policies and disagreements that occurred. He speaks disparagingly of Leo Baeck, who could never forgive Murmelstein for his obvious disdain for the council.

Undemocratic as the process was, it was more merciful for him to judge peoples' crimes than for the cases to go through the courts, because "behind the court stood the Kommandatur." He continues to explain his method of avoiding German involvement in the criminal justice system. Murmelstein was blamed for the confiscation of the Red Cross and other packages that were sent to the Jews in Theresienstadt. He says the first question that Red Cross officials asked him in April 1945 was about the packages.

TAPE 3185 -- Camera Rolls #77-79 -- 04:30:04 to 04:52:22
Lanzmann mentions the fact that the interview has now lasted four days and he finds himself wondering whether he is making a film about the Shoah or a film about Dr. Murmelstein. Murmelstein talks about his early life and his parents. He went to a rabbinical school and studied mathematics. He studied oriental languages at the University of Vienna. He says he is not sure why he became a rabbi.

Murmelstein says that he was only prominent because of his involvement with Eichmann. Otherwise he would not have been prominent then, just as he is not now. Lanzmann asks again whether he desired power, and then whether he was somehow impressed by the power wielded by the Nazis. Lanzmann asks about his relationship with Rahm, and Murmelstein says Rahm never forgot that in 1938 or 1939 Eichmann told him to bring a chair for Murmelstein to sit on. Their relationship in Theresienstadt worked fairly well, although there were bad times, such as the October transports. He says that for a woman to become pregnant was not forbidden as it was in other ghettos, and that 13 of the 213 children born in Theresienstadt survived.

FILM ID 3186 -- Camera Rolls #80-82 -- 05:30:05 to 05:52:28
Rahm instructed Murmelstein that he needed reports from Theresienstadt, complete with denunciations, and told him that he had received such reports from Murmelstein's predecessors. The reports that Murmelstein gave him contained denunciations only of Murmelstein himself. Rahm was imprisoned for the first time after the war in 1947. Murmelstein said he convinced Rahm not to execute the last Jews left in the ghetto. He urged Rahm to escape at the end in order to ease tension in the ghetto. Murmelstein tells of the final days before liberation. Rahm summoned him and turned over a bank account in Bauschowitz, which contained money for the ghetto.

Lanzmann asks Murmelstein how he decided to take on the responsibility for the beautification of the ghetto (before the Red Cross visit in 1944). He says that the beautification resulted in real improvements in the conditions of the ghetto, despite the fact that the project enabled Nazi propaganda. He says the other members of the Council considered him a Falstaff but he was more of a Sancho Panza. Once Theresienstadt was shown to someone (the Red Cross) then it could not disappear. He saw the "prostitution" of the ghetto as necessary. His workers wanted to sabotage their work but he forbade it. He says that Eppstein and not he was responsible for the cultural activities depicted in the film. He describes Epptein's role as that of a petty prince. He says that he is convinced that the city beautifcation led to the continued existence of the ghetto. He lists the raw materials received by the ghetto in preparation for the filming. He says that showing the ghetto in the film meant that "they were not hiding us. If they hid us, then they could kill us." He says that the Red Cross would not have come if the city beautification had not taken place, and that he raised an alarm with the Red Cross when they were leaving (?). He mistakenly refers to the 1942 Theresienstadt film as "Der Fuehrer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt" and says that he was not in Thereseinstadt when the 1942 film was made. Murmelstein says again that he appeared with Eppstein in one scene, but because Eppstein was murdered the scene was cut. Murmellstein got in an argument with Guenther when Guenther asked Murmelstein how he liked the film and Murmelstein said that he did not like it at all, because the people were not shown working.

FILM ID 3187 -- Camera Rolls #83-87 -- 06:30:03 to 06:52:35
The city beautification for the Theresienstadt film also included deporting the sick and the crippled. Lanzmann asks whether there was a resistance movement in Theresienstadt and Murmelstein says there was moral resistance but no armed resistance. Lanzmann asks if there was resistance against the Aeltestenrat. Murmelstein denies this was the case and talks instead about artists who painted true-to-life scenes of Theresienstadt and hid their paintings. He says in all of Bohemia their was no resistance and the Jews were certainly not in a position to resist.

Murmelstein and Lanzmann look at a book together. The book contains an illustration (drawn by Edelstein?) which depicts the ghetto as a sieve during the arrival of a transport of elderly Jews in 1942. The younger Jews fall through the sieve into Auschwitz. Murmelstein explains that Edelstein felt compelled to save the younger Czech Jews (to whom he had made a promise) by deporting the older ones. Edelstein's argument was the the younger Jews could work and make the ghetto function. Eichmann had intended to let the older Jews stay in Theresienstadt (and deport the younger Jews?). Lanzmann points out that by the time Murmelstein became head of the Council there were very few young people left, and Murmelstein says something further in defence of Edelstein.

FILM ID 3188 -- Camera Rolls #88-92 -- 07:30:02 to 07:52:35
Lanzmann shows Murmelstein the same illustration depicting a transport of elderly Jews arriving at the ghetto from Germany in 1942, while young Jews are transported to Auschwitz. The book in which the illustration appears is "Die Verheimlichte Wahrheit" [The Secret Truth] by H. G. Adler and contains a report from Edelstein about the ghetto. Edelstein wanted to deport the older people, in order to keep his promise to the younger Jews from Prague (this was in 1942, before Murmelstein arrived at Theresienstadt). Murmelstein says that the older people should not have been shipped all at once, but rather in several transports, so that individuals could have been removed from the transports. Murmelstein says that at the time they knew nothing of Sobibor and Chelmno, and they knew Birkenau only as a family camp. He tells the story of the children from Bialystok (he does not give the exact number but there were approximately 1200), who arrived in Theresienstadt in August 1943. These children were to be allowed to go to Palestine in exchange for Germans interned in Allied countries, but some of them got sick and they were deported to Auschwitz in October, along with the doctor and nurse who had cared for them. Lanzmann asks him to repeat the story and Murmelstein adds that the children cried "gas!" when they saw the showers in Theresienstadt. After the deportation of the sick children, Eppstein informed the ghetto residents that the remaining children would be shipped to the West and asked for volunteers to accompany them. One of the volunteers was Franz Kafka's sister, Ottla. The train went to Auschwitz instead of to Palestine. The Danish Jews who arrived shortly afterwards also knew about the gas chambers at Auschwitz but Murmelstein continues to insist that he didn't know anything. Lanzmann says that before he met Murmelstein he had a negative impression of him and asks whether Murmelstein thinks history can be written by relying soley on documents.

FILM ID 3189 -- Camera Rolls #93-96 -- 08:30:04 to 08:47:59
Still addressing the question of whether history can be written using only documents, Murmelstein criticizes Adler's manipulation of documents in his book on Theresienstadt. He also criticizes other books that contain falsehoods about him. He says that the use of Jews to make soap is as awful as using them for political purposes. He tells of a young man who asked him to help avoid deportation and then told him joyfully that it was his father who was to be deported, not him. Murmelstein reprimanded him and after the war the man wrote a book in which he denounced Murmelstein. Murmelstein says he tried to prevent people from volunteering to go with their family members because he thought it was senseless. Lanzmann suggests that the two of them make a trip to Israel together. Murmelstein tells Lanzmann to leave the subject alone. He says that he has made mistakes but has paid for them by living in the desert, but if Italy is his desert he doesn't have much to complain about.

FILM ID 3190, part 1 -- Camera Rolls #21B,21D,64B -- 09:30:00 to 09:42:11
Silent CUs of Lanzmann on the balcony listening to Murmelstein. He smokes and nods his head periodically. Murmelstein's gesturing hand appear in the frame. 09:35:00 silent interior shots of Lanzmann sitting on the couch. He looks at papers and listens to Murmelstein. Lanzmann pages through a book with several bookmarks.

FILM ID 3190, part 2 -- Camera Rolls #21,26A,69A,27 -- 10:30:00 to 10:37:25
Silent shots of the setting sun from the balcony. Shots of Murmelstein, includling the back of his head. Daylight again -- panning shots of Rome rooftops and pigeons.

FILM ID 3190, part 3 -- Camera Rolls #26A -- 11:30:00 to 11:30:27
Silent shot of Angelika Schrobsdorff, Lanzmann's interpreter (and wife) in profile, wearing sunglasses.

FILM ID 3190, part 4 -- Camera Rolls #34A -- 12:30:04 to 12:30:21
Silent CU of Murmelstein's hands holding several typed and handwritten pieces of paper.

FILM ID 3190, part 5 -- Camera Rolls #30A -- 13:30:03 to 13:31:28
Silent CU of Murmelstein on the balcony, listening to Lanzmann.

Genre
Outtake
Duration
11:24:00
Event Date
February 1976
Locale
Rome, Italy
Language
German
Genre/Form
Outtakes.
Credit
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Expand all
 
Record last modified: 2018-10-23 14:56:09
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn1003918