NEW YORK (Oct. 22)
Fania Fenelon, whose memoirs of her experiences in Auschwitz are being made into a three-hour movie for CBS-TV, reiterated today her strong opposition to being portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave, the British actress who is a supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“She is not me, ” Fenelon told a press conference here sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. “She is a fanatic. I do not accept to be played by a woman who is the opposite of what I am.”
The press conference was held after Fenelon, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of the Center’s outreach program, met this morning with Gene Jankowski, president of CBS. The three later discussed the meeting with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a special interview as well as at the press conference.
Hier said he told Jankowski that CBS was guilty of “insensitivity” to Fenelon and other Holocaust survivors as well as the 11 million persons who died in the Holocaust by not considering Redgrave’s unsuitability to the role before she was hired. He said the Center is seeking a public apology from CBS. “Even corporate giants make mistakes, ” he said. He also criticized CBS for not consulting experts on the Holocaust as did NBC-TV for its four-part film, “Holocaust.”
ORGANIZING NATIONAL CAMPAIGN
A national campaign is being organized to convince viewers not to watch the program, Hier said. More than a million postcards are being sent to CBS chairman William Paley protesting the program. Fenelon was also scheduled to meet with leaders of national and local Jewish organizations here this afternoon. Similar meetings are scheduled for Chicago on Wednesday and in Los Angeles on Friday. Hier said college students are being enlisted and they are meeting with local CBS affiliates.
Fenelon and Hier denied that they were supporting blacklisting. Hier noted that the media focus has been on Redgrave’s “rights,” but he said no one considers the rights of Holocaust victims.
Hier said it is Redgrave who is politicizing the issue, not those who oppose her appearance. He note that when she won the Academy Award for “Julia” she used it to promote her pro-PLO stand. Noting that Redgrave told Fenelon that she would remain in the role even it she was not paid, Hier said the actress wants to play a Holocaust survivor in order to “legitimize” her claim that she is only anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic.
Fenelon, who came here from Paris, was accompanied today by two sisters, Lily Assael and Yvette Lennon, formerly of Greece and now living in New York, who, like her were forced-to-play in the inmate orchestra at Auschwitz while other prisoners marched to the death in the gas chambers. She said that she would not object to Redgrave playing other parts in the film such as the SS members. “To be a fanatic is to be a fascist,” Fenelon said.
INCENSED OVER “60 MINUTES” SHOW
Fenelon told the JTA she told the CBS president that she was incensed by the way CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” had distorted her meeting with Redgrave which was held in London at CBS’s request. She said she was quoted only as saying, “I am for Israel” when she had actually added, I am for the Palestinians, I am for the Puerto Ricans, I am for the Blacks. I am for everybody who suffers.” Fenelon said the program also gave the impression that she and Redgrave left as friends which she said, was not true.
Fenelon charged that Linda Yellen, head of the company which is making the film for CBS, never answered the five letters of protest she wrote to her. She said Yellen first contacted her after she heard she was coming to the U.S. to speak out against the program and then offered to have her act as a consultant.
Fenelon said she sold her memoirs “Playing for time,” to a literary agent and had nothing to do with its sale for a television program. She said she has now read the script and finds it distorted and false. She wrote to playwright Arthur Miller, who did the script, but has never received an answer.
Fenelon denied that she was making her protest at the request of the Center. She told the JTA that she first learned of the dispute when she read about it in a newspaper. The Center sponsored her trip after she asked to come to the U.S. to lodge her public protest because she was upset over the situation.