NEW YORK (Oct. 2)
CBS-TV network officials and playwright Arthur Miller said yesterday that they would turn down a request from two Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors for time to air a dialogue between them and Miller, author of the television drama “Playing for Time” which was broadcast on the CBS network Tuesday night.
The survivors are More Benkowitz of New City, N. Y. and Alex Dekel of New York City, both in their late forties. As children they were subject of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele’s medical experiments of the extermination camp in southern Poland. They told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they wanted the dialogue with Miller to clear up “deceptions” and “dangerous fictionalizing” in Miller’s version of the story of Fania Fenelon, a French, half-Jewish member of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz.
TERM FILM ‘A FARCE,’ ‘OUTRAGE’
In addition to other “cruel insensitivities, ” they described the characterization of Mengele in the television play as “a farce” and an “outrage. ” “After 33 years of pain and sorrow, we want to come out and express what happened to, as. Seeing this opened wounds that never will be sealed,” they said.
Along with the denial of air time, CBS officials reiterated that the network had never intended to offend the Jewish community in either the casting of the controversial Palestine Liberation Organization sympathizer Vanessa Redgrave in the role of Fenelon or in the presentation of Playing for Time.”
“On the contrary, it is our belief that this production will make a lasting contribution that the terrible events of the Nazi era will not be forgotten,” the CBS official said.
A spokesperson for Miller told the JTA that the playwright “prefers’ not to set involved or discuss the idea” of a dialogue. “He is starting a new project and important as the idea is, he cannot get involved. He doesn’t have the time, ” the spokesperson stated. Miller, in the midst of rehearsals of his new Broadway play, said he had no comment” on the allegations that Mengele’s character was distorted in “Playing for Time.”
WATCHED FILM FROM HOSPITAL BED
Berkowitz said he watched the television film from a hospital bed where he is under treatment for a neurological condition inflicted upon him by Mengele’s medical experiments. Claiming a lack of authenticity in the film, he told the JTA in a telephone interview, “Maybe this can be done When it pertains to ancient times. But when something is still before your eyes like pictures in a camera, you don’t need second best. “
Berkowitz; whose arm Bears the Auschwitz not too number A7738, carries a copy of a certificate signed by Mengele, stating that he was experimented on by the infamous death camp doctor. He said he obtained the document from the Polish government. He said that he and his twin sister were among some 400 children, mostly twins, who were selected for inhuman “medical” experiments.
Berkowitz and his sister were liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet forces in December, 1944 along with five other pairs of twins who survived. Berkowitz described Mengele’s medical experiments section of the camp, not referred to in the television film, as a “human zoo.”
DESCRIBES SOME DISTORTIONS
Dckel described himself if the JTA as “a human guinea pig for Mengele” when he was a child in Auschwitz. He was liberated while on a death march from the camp. The tattoo number B14844 is still on his arm.
According to Dekel, “Miller’s message was we’re all human beings, even Nazis and he mode heroes out of butchers to prove it. “Dekel said, “The film gives the impression Auschwitz was a jail with inmates who were sentenced. The SS were depicted as wardens, human beings who did their jobs’. Giving people like Maria Mandel (the SS commander of the women’s camp at Birkenau) a human element is a very tragic situation,” Dekel said.
He described Mandel, portrayed in the film by a slim, attractive blonde actress, Shirley Knight, a weighing over 200 pounds and regularly beating the women. “Here (in the film) only her tragic human element is depicted,” he said. “She is glamorized and her constant beatings’ and cruelty are left out, showing her as compassionate. I saw her beat the women with my own eyes.”
WILL HELP DENIAL OF HOLOCAUST
Dekel, who has detailed “what the experiment children went through” in his forthcoming book, “the Volley of Dry Bones,” called the television film injustice to the few survivors of Mengele. Miller misled the public on what actually happened at Auschwitz-Birkenau, ” he charged. He observed that “There was just enough realism to make people believe that this is haw it was.”
The greatest danger of all according to Dekel is that “Playing for Time” will help the neo-Nazi movement’s denial of the Holocaust because it portrays the Nazis as “just human beings.”
While neither of the survivors questioned Redgrave’s acting ability nor her right to perform, Dekel said he feared that she will use her role to promote her pro-PLO sentiments in on attempt to separate anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism. “She will be able to say, ‘you see, I did something beautiful for you’, ” he said.
GENERAL REACTIONS TO FILM
Meanwhile, CBS headquarters in New York City reported that “Playing for Time” swept the ratings in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. The film captured 41 percent of the viewing audience in New York, 36 in Chicago and 35 in Los Angeles.
In related developments, the front door of the CBS network affiliate in Phoenix was firebombed and the front door of the CBS network affiliate in Los Angeles was shattered by bullets. No one was hurt in either incident. Demonstrators picketed outside CBS headquarters in New York and outside the offices of CBS affiliates in Philadelphia, Detroit, Denver and Phoenix.
Some American Jewish weeklies said they would publish a list of advertisers who sponsored the program. In at least two-cities, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Redgrave was hung in effigy prior to the telecast. Fenelon, who has threatened to sue CBS over the casting of Redgrave was reported to have said in Paris, “These kind of fanatics frighten me. They are almost as bad as she (Redgrave) is.”
In Los Angeles, on “Israeli Cabaret Night” attracted more than 2000 people at the Stephen Wise Temple during the three hours “Playing for Time” was being shown. The Cabaret night had been designated as an alternative to watching the program. CBS in New York reported that it had received some 900 unfavorable calls in a three hour period before the film went on the air, but dismissed it as “obviously organized.” However, CBS also reported that after the program it received more than 400 telephone calls, and they were about six-to-one in praise of the program.