`The Specialist' is almost entirely a perverse fraud

So says the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, claiming large parts of the documentary about the Eichmann trial are a forgery.

Goel Pinto
Goel Pinto
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Goel Pinto
Goel Pinto

In the week that the world is commemorating 60 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp, Haaretz has received documents submitted to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz that raise the suspicion that many sections of the film "The Specialist" were forged. "The Specialist," directed by Eyal Sivan, is one of the most important documentary films about the Eichmann trial. The film was first screened in 1999, it is about two hours long, and with the exception of one photograph, it was edited from the original tapes of the trial. Many countries participated in its production, including Israel, France, Germany, Austria and Belgium, and it was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and has enjoyed great success the world over.

In September, the attorney general received a letter from the legal consultant of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The subject: "Forgery of sections of film from the Eichmann trial." The legal consultant writes: "I am hereby bringing to your attention a very serious event that in our opinion even constitutes a criminal offense and justifies handling by government authorities." She explains that "the director of the archives [she is referring to the Spielberg Jewish Films Archive] has brought to our attention that in 1999 a film called `The Specialist' was produced, which pretends to be a documentary film of the Eichmann trial .... To our astonishment, it turned out that many sections of film from the trial that were used in the film were forged." The complaint by the Hebrew University to the attorney general is based on a study by Hillel Tryster, the director of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, which is located on the campus of Hebrew University.

Silent witness

The trial of Adolf Eichmann took place in Jerusalem in 1961. There were four cameras in the courtroom, which operated alternately - at any given moment, one camera was used, in accordance with the decision of director Leo Hurwitz. In the 1990s, the director of the state archives decided to make two copies of all the filmed material, each of them comprising 350 tapes: One copy was submitted to the Spielberg archives and the second was kept in the state archives.

After "The Specialist" was released, Tryster began to compare the original tapes of the trial, which are in the Spielberg archives, with what appeared in Sivan's film. In his research paper, which was added to the complaint of the legal adviser of the university to the attorney general, Tryster determines: "While I watched and made comparisons, it gradually became clear that the film `The Specialist' was almost entirely a perverse fraud, ranging from radical editing to artificial dialogues that never took place." Tryster retired from heading the film archive on the first of the month, but the administration of the archives said last week: "We stand behind Hillel Tryster's conclusions on this matter."

In his research, Tryster presents many examples that indicate that the director, Eyal Sivan, edited the films of the trial in order to express a basic viewpoint: Eichmann was only an unimportant clerk, and his Jewish victims did not do everything in their power to resist the extermination. For example, in a scene from the film the prosecutor general, Gideon Hausner, asks Avraham Lindwasser, one of the witnesses at the trial: "Why didn't you resist? Why did you get onto the train?" In the film, the witness is seen remaining silent, and that is the end of the scene. Tryster examined the original tapes and discovered that Hausner did in fact ask the question, but he did not ask it of the witness whose face appears on the screen. In the original, the question was asked of Yakov Gurfein, who in fact replied that in 1943, they simply had no more strength left and they wanted everything to end. And from where did the director take the moment during which Lindwasser is silent? From an examination of the original tapes, it turns out that the witness was silent after telling that he had worked in Treblinka removing gold teeth from the corpses and suddenly discovered the corpse of his sister.

A pleasant man

Several scenes from the film, which Tryster points out, testify to Sivan's effort to portray Eichmann as a calm and harmless man. One of the witnesses who appears in "The Specialist" is Franz Meyer, who describes his meeting with Eichmann. He said that this meeting was correct, and that Eichmann addressed him politely, told him to sit, and explained to him that before every activity he had to consult his superiors. Tryster points out, on the other hand, that there is a continuation to this testimony.

The meeting that Meyer talks about in the film took place in 1937, before Eichmann was appointed head of the operations division of the SS and was responsible for the "Final Solution." Later in the testimony, which does not appear in the film, Meyer mentions another three meetings with Eichmann, which took place in 1939, and in regard to them he says that Eichmann had changed so much that he wondered if this was the same person. "He characterized the change," writes Tryster, "by saying that Eichmann had turned from a bureaucrat into an autocrat who demonstrated his power and his ability to control life and death, speaking rudely and insolently, and screaming and cursing at one of the men who put a hand in his pocket."

Another attempt to present Eichmann as a pleasant man is related to the testimony of Pinhas Freudiger. In the film, Freudiger is seen being asked by Gavriel Bach, Hausner's assistant, whether he had met with Eichmann, and he replies that he had. Bach asks how long the meeting had lasted, and he replies, half an hour. Bach asks whether the tone of the meeting was placatory, and Freudiger confirms that it was. On this matter, Tryster writes that the witness' dialogue with the prosecutor is composed of two different conversations, which the filmmakers combined. "The exchange between Freudiger and Bach, as seen in the film, is the product of skilled editing," says Tryster.

Tryster explains that the half-hour meeting of which the witness, Freudiger, is speaking, did not take place with Eichmann, but with three Nazi officers who called a meeting with 15 Jewish community leaders in Budapest. Tryster explains that when the witness says that the tone of the meeting was placatory, he is referring to the contents of a meeting during which the three officers promised that Jewish cultural and religious life would not be harmed. But in the film "The Specialist," the continuation of the testimony is not filmed. In it the witness added that during this meeting, one of the soldiers present at the meeting pointed a loaded automatic pistol at them.

And what did Freudiger really say concerning his meeting with Eichmann? In the original tapes, writes Tryster, Gavriel Bach asks the witness whether he is capable of identifying the accused in the courtroom. Freudiger replies that he remembers Obersturmbannfuhrer Eichmann in uniform, in high boots, standing with his legs apart, his hand on his pistol, shouting at him, and in spite of that, he believed that this was the man standing trial at that moment.

"Nothing of all that appears in the film," adds Tryster. In the film, Sivan pretends to present Eichmann as an ordinary, rank-and-file clerk, and therefore he left in descriptions that portray him as a gentle man, before he achieved a position of power. "In the case of Freudiger, Sivan not only omitted the main parts of his testimony, but by means of sophisticated editing he managed to put in the witness' mouth a fake claim that supports the exact opposite."

Eichmann as victim

Another example of tendentious editing of the film, which presents Eichmann in his weakness, is related to the testimony of poet Abba Kovner. In "The Specialist," the judge is filmed remarking to the prosecutor Hausner that the questions that he is asking the witness deviate from the subject of the trial. A stormy debate ensues between the two, and Eichmann is filmed occupied with a pile of papers. Immediately after this scene, Hausner is seen shouting at Eichmann in German and demanding a "yes" or "no" answer.

Tryster explains in his research that not only is it a fact that in the only picture of Eichmann during the exchange of words, he is seen listening rather than busy with his papers (this picture was taken from a different stage of the trial) - but that Hausner's shouting at Eichmann has no connection to Abba Kovner's testimony. Tryster claims that the tendentious editing presents Eichmann as a weak, accused man who is humiliated by the prosecutor for no practical reason: After the judge reprimands him, Hausner takes out his anger on Eichmann and loudly humiliates him. "The two events did in fact take place," claims Tryster, "but 10 weeks apart."

This is not the only example in which Tryster points to an attempt by the creators of "The Specialist" to present Hausner in a negative light - this time, by trying to create a similarity between the external appearance of prosecutor Hausner and the accused Eichmann. In one of scenes in the film, Eichmann is seen asking permission to leave his protective booth to take a close look at a map hanging outside. In the background music is heard, and the camera focuses on the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, who turns his gaze towards the panel of judges. The judge approves, and Eichmann leaves the booth. The quality of the picture begins to deteriorate, the music becomes louder. Hausner joins Eichmann next to the map, and the two of them are seen standing side by side, with their backs to the camera. The picture becomes even fuzzier, and at that same moment, the two bald men, dressed in black, look almost identical. "In the original tape," says Tryster, "the judge and Hausner were not even filmed at that moment. The pictures are taken from another part of the trial. The deterioration in the quality of the picture, which emphasizes the great similarity between the men, is artificial."

Tryster even points to the addition of sounds that were not heard at the trial at all. In one part of the film, witness Leslie Gordon is asked whether Eichmann looked the same as he did then. Gordon replies: "No. He looks much better. Better than he should look." In the background, laughter is heard in the courtroom, particularly the laughter of a woman who sounds close to the microphone. Tryster claims that "artificial laughter was used," and originally only a wave of murmuring was heard, but "definitely not laughter."

No criminal proceedings

About a month ago, the attorney general's office replied to the complaint of Hebrew University and ruled: "Without minimizing the importance and the severity of the things you mention ... and considering the policy of the prosecution regarding crimes related to freedom of expression, the view of the attorney general is that criminal proceedings are not the proper way of dealing with this case." In the letter of reply, it is explained that High Court of Justice rulings over the years have expanded the concept of freedom of expression to include expression and creation dealing with historical events, "which don't reflect the truth." And the letter ends with the sentence: "This statement does not take a stand regarding the possibility of non-criminal legal proceedings or regarding the importance of clarifying these things in extra-legal arenas."

Can the creator of a documentary film, in the name of freedom of expression, present reality as he wishes, even in the case of an historical event like the Holocaust? Tryster concludes his research paper with these words: "In the name of all those presented in `The Specialist' whose words and acts were distorted, shortened or changed by means of sly manipulation, I feel that the most appropriate question to address to Mr. Eyal Sivan is that addressed to Senator Joseph McCarthy by attorney Joseph Welch in 1945: `Have you left no sense of decency?'"

`We do films, not archives'

"The Spielberg archive took six years to point out presumed defects in the film, and that indicates the extent of the archive's efficiency," said director Eyal Sivan in response to the complaints against him. "The archive betrayed its role as the body responsible for preserving the Eichmann trial materials." Sivan says that when they began work on the film, the archive offered them 68 hours from the trial. Only after searching did the production team find the rest of the materials, "which were stored in the bathroom of the Hebrew University law faculty. I personally worked for seven months cataloging all the reels we found. We saved all the materials, at our own expense, transferred them to a digital format, and even gave the original copy to the state. Spielberg's people accuse us of editing and of taking things out of context. It's strange that people who betrayed their role are raising such a claim."

Sivan replies to the complaints against "The Specialist" in four words: "We made a film," with everything that implies - editing and adding effects. "After the film was screened for the first time at the festival in Berlin, we emphasized our cinematic work, both in the press and in the book we published afterwards. All the materials we used underwent treatment. We added lighting. We touched up the picture. And still, the claim that we added external laughter to one of the scenes is a lie. The film's sound was taken from the audio tapes of the trial."

In regard to the witness who did not reply to the question "Why didn't you resist?" while in the original another witness was asked about that, Sivan says: "Most of the witnesses were asked the same question. It's true that there's editing here, but it's a film. Hausner's opening speech lasted for three days, and in the film there's only one minute. Did we commit fraud here as well? `The Specialist' is not the Eichmann trial, it's a film from the archives of the Eichmann trial." And why were Hausner's shouts at Eichmann placed in the wrong context? "The Eichmann trial lasted for nine months, whereas the film lasts for 123 minutes," replies Sivan. "Spielberg's people have to remember that their job is not to make movies, and our job is not to do archival work."

Regarding the blurring of the picture in order to create a similarity between Eichmann and Hausner, both with their backs to the camera, Sivan says: "Did I place them next to one another? Is it my fault that they were both bald and dressed in black? Moreover, had I not presented this scene, would the Spielberg people still have asked why I cut the scene? Of course not!"

In the same language, Sivan also replies to the question as to why he cut short Meyer's testimony, in which he mentions Eichmann's coarse manner of speaking. "Had we presented only the part where Eichmann is a rude man, the Spielberg archive would have asked why I didn't use the scene in which Meyer testifies that he was a nice man."

Regarding the claim that Freudiger's testimony is an editing of two meetings, Sivan says: "That's an outright lie. The Spielberg archive has an old ideological approach, according to which memory is more important than history. It's more important to them to show the witnesses than to discuss the past. Freudiger's testimony at the Eichmann trial is extraordinary because the audience in the courtroom came out against Freudiger and accused him of collaboration." (G.P.)



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