Dusting Off a Documentary

After 32 years in the Channel One archives, David Perlov's 'Memories of the Eichmann Trial' will be screened once again, tomorrow at the Jerusalem Theater and later this month at the Docaviv Film Festival.

In 1979, Channel One broadcast "Memories of the Eichmann Trial," a documentary directed for the Israeli television station by David Perlov. The movie, shot on 16mm film, was aired only once and for the 32 years since has remained unseen in the channel's archives. The director, who passed away in 2003, did not own a copy of the documentary himself, but rather a yellowed video cassette prepared for him by the archive, which was missing the first three minutes and the closing credits.

With the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial approaching this year, Perlov's family, in cooperation with Yad Vashem, decided to save the film from oblivion. Last month, with the help of Channel One archive director Billy Segal, Perlov's daughter Yael and Yad Vashem Visual Center director Liat Benhabib located the boxes containing the original copy of the documentary.

Eichmann Trial

"I opened the boxes with shaky hands," Yael Perlov says. "I didn't know if I'd find the minutes that were missing from the beginning and end of the film. I have no words to describe how I felt when we watched it and saw that it remained in outstanding condition, and included the missing segments."

But while those three minutes were recovered - showing several people, one after another, glancing at photos of Eichmann - they lacked a sound track.

"Liat had the idea to bring in lip-reading experts who could tell us what they were saying," Perlov says, "but when [my mother] Mira heard about this, she offered to take one more look at home. I went over to her place at 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning, we reached up on a shelf and found the VHS cassette labeled with the name of the film and the words 'slightly damaged.'"

Still, the sound at the beginning of the film was of reasonable quality. In order to synchronize the various sources of sound, and to record the film in a a more up-to-date format and improve its quality, "Memories of the Eichmann Trial" underwent restoration in Paris.

For example, the original film did not include captions identifying the people being interviewed. Yad Vashem staffers managed to identify four of them on the first viewing, Ben Haviv says: Rafi Eitan, commander of the operation that captured Eichmann; photographer Henryk Ross, who testified at the Eichmann trial and his wife Stefania Ross; and Rivka Yosselevska, who also testified at the trial.

"We did not know who the younger interviewees were," Benhabib says. "We considered publicizing photos of the unknown individuals and requesting help in identifying them, but felt this was improper. Instead we approached historians and scholars of that era, specifically those who dealt with the Eichmann trial, various employees at Yad Vashem, as well as people who'd been involved in making the film. In the end, we managed to identify 11 of the 14 interviewees. Three of them remain a mystery."

Tomorrow, at the close of Holocaust Memorial Day, the film will be screened at the Jerusalem Theater, and on May 19 it will be shown at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque as part of the Docaviv Film Festival.

Chilly reception

"Memories of the Eichmann Trial," slightly over one hour long, opens with Perlov showing interviewees photographs of the infamous Nazi criminal inside the glass booth where he sat during his 1961 trial. Then Henryk Ross, a still photographer who documented scenes from the Lodz Ghetto with a hidden camera, at the risk of losing his life, appears on screen. While the video camera examines Ross, Perlov explains in his familiar voice that Ross was one of the witnesses in the trial and how his photos were exhibited to the court as evidence.

"Perlov made large use of stills," says Era Lapid, who edited the film. "Ross's photos are amazing and Perlov chose to interview him because they captured the period with such great intensity."

In addition to his conversations with the interviewees, Perlov also plays footage of the trial for them, including the famous opening speech of Attorney General Gideon Hausner and testimony from several witnesses. In these scenes, Perlov simply allows the camera to follow the facial expressions and responses of those he is interviewing.

Several of the interviewees are elderly Holocaust survivors, two of whom served as witnesses in the trial. The rest are young Israelis. Perlov listens to them describe, among how other things, how the trial affected how they saw the Holocaust as well as their approach to survivors, family relationships and communication with their parents.

The film got a chilly reception when it was first screened, the filmmaker's widow Mira Perlov recalls.

"People didn't understand that he just wanted to do the simplest thing: have his subjects sit in one place, answering the simplest questions," she says. "I remember he said, 'I want it to be as simple as possible, testimony given with the greatest simplicity, here in my home, one after another.' David wanted to do it in the form of an interrogation, one after another. He decided to film them all in the same format: They sat in a chair facing him, in our home, answering questions."

A constant refugee

Perlov was born in Brazil and arrived in Israel at age 27.

"I always saw him as trying to solve this puzzle," says Lapid, a friend of Perlov's who worked with him on other films as well. "To understand who the Israelis are, this nation which lives here, these children, [and] the connection between a child and parents who are so damaged. What happens to him and how does it influence him?

"This is what fascinated David, and it's also part of what makes the film unique. It includes survivors, but also native-born Israelis. David, who did not belong to either of these groups, wanted to understand how the trial had affected them. He was never accepted here, and always remained a refugee."

Liat Benhabib of Yad Vashem also decribes the film as unique and of great importance.

"Over the years, the representation of the Holocaust in film has gone through various stages," she says. "Sixty years ago, films covering the Holocaust dealt mainly with the war, not the Jewish aspect. Over time this changed and at the end of the 1970s, feature and documentary films began to focus mostly on Holocaust narratives - what happened there, what happened to the victims, and what happened to the survivors who arrived in Israel.

"Only recently, since the end of the '90s, is it possible to find films that examine what has happened to the memory of the Holocaust since, and how this is connected to issues of identity," she explains.

And so, for example, Miriam Eitan testifies in front of Perlov's camera: "I always knew about the Holocaust, I always read about the Holocaust. I was always close to things, because of the suffering my mother's family went through, and yet the words remained only words. That is, knowledge but without emotion."

"The only time I think it realized that it was impossible for someone who was not there to turn knowledge into feeling was during that moment of silence when K. Zetnik lost consciousness [while testifying at the trial]," she continues. "Suddenly I got it: Either people were there and are therefore incapable of living in another reality, or they were not there and are not able in any way to create this reality within themselves."

According to Mira Perlov, her husband's desire to make a Holocaust film started in the 1950s.

"David knew Alain Resnais, and once when visiting him, Resnais was awaiting an answer about 'Night and Fog,' which had been sent to a festival," she says. "After the film was released in Paris, we went to see it. David thought it was a wonderful movie, and used it to teach students for many years - but I remember that when [we first watched it], he left feeling very shocked, as it had omitted the word 'Jew.' He said then, 'I want to make a film that answers Alain Resnais.'"

In 1962, Perlov made the short documentary "In Thy Blood Live," which dealt with the Holocaust and how it was memorialized in Israel, and concluded with the Eichmann trial. "It was a small, modest film, but very important to him," his wife says.

Seventeen years later, Perlov received another opportunity to formulate an answer to his French colleague, this time in "Memories of the Eichmann Trial." Mira Perlov hopes it will be possible to release the two films together on the same DVD, because of their shared subject matter.