Shoah week on PBS

"Among the Righteous" chronicles a scholar's search for Arabs -- like, from left, Si Ali Sakkat, Hamza Abdul Jalil and Khaled Abdul Wahab -- who aided Jews at risk from Hitler's troops in North Africa. (PBS)

“Among the Righteous” chronicles a scholar’s search for Arabs — like, from left, Si Ali Sakkat, Hamza Abdul Jalil and Khaled Abdul Wahab — who aided Jews at risk from Hitler’s troops in North Africa. (PBS)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — The Public Broadcasting Service will offer U.S. television viewers a concentrated history lesson during Holocaust Remembrance Week, with seven films and documentaries on Jewish death and defiance in the past and on the genocides of the present.

Four main films will be aired in prime time by 365 member stations, starting April 11 with a broadcast of the British version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" at 9 p.m., sponsored in part by the Jewish Federations of North America (check local listings to confirm date and time).

The story of the high-spirited Jewish girl in hiding from the Nazis for two years in a crowded Amsterdam attic, while facing the highs and lows of adolescence and first love, is too familiar and revered to permit tampering with the plot. However, director Jon Jones does allow himself to vary the relationships among the key characters.

Ellie Kendrick (one of the young school girls in "An Education") gives us an Anne with all her exuberance, as well as occasional orneriness and chutzpah. But the major surprise is Otto Frank, Anne’s father, as portrayed by Iain Glen.

In her intimate diary, Anne was not uncritical of her parents, and Otto has been pictured frequently as cold and ineffectual.

By contrast, in the current production, Otto is very much the central and dominating figure who keeps his family and their friends from falling apart amid the crowded tension and boredom of their tight quarters.

It is also Otto who enforces a degree of normalcy in the most abnormal of circumstances. The three adult men in the attic dress in jacket and tie, and in the celebration of a joyous Chanukah the actors seem to convince themselves and the viewers that all is (or soon will be) all right with the world.

"Among the Righteous," airing April 12 at 10 p.m., documents the dogged search by historian and writer Robert Satloff to track down and verify any instances in which Arabs aided their Jewish neighbors while Hitler’s Afrika Corps swept across North Africa.

Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, embarked on his quest after noticing during a visit to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem that not a single Arab was listed among the righteous Christians and, mainly Albanian Muslims, who sheltered or saved Jews during the Holocaust.

His research turned up evidence of 100 forced labor and concentration camps in Tunisia and Morocco — one so notorious that it was known as the "Buchenwald in the Desert."

Satloff finds his hero in Khaled Abdul-Wahab, a prosperous Tunis businessman who, like Oskar Schindler, entertained Nazi officials to cover sheltering Jewish families on his family farm.

Tunisian-born Sivan Shalom, Israel’s former foreign minister, also offers a brief testimony on the help extended to his father by Arab friends.

"Blessed Is the Match," scheduled for April 13 at 10 p.m., recounts the bravery of Hannah Senesh, a young poet and diarist. In 1944, Senesh joined an elite group of Palestine’s Jews to parachute behind Nazi lines and rescue Jews in her native Hungary.

Senesh was caught, tortured and executed by the Germans, but her name lives on in the annals of Israeli heroism.

Turning from the horrors of the past to the bloody present (and future), historian Daniel Goldhagen premieres his book and documentary feature "Worse Than War" on April 14 at 9 p.m.

Looking at the sorry record of the past 100 years, Goldhagen counts 100 million civilians, mostly women and children, killed in genocides in Turkey, Ukraine, Nazi-occupied Europe, China and Cambodia, then on to Guatemala, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

That staggering figure, says the author of "Hitler’s Willing Executioners," exceeds all the military deaths in all the wars of the century.

Followed by a camera crew, Goldhagen last year went to 10 countries in Asia, Africa, the former Soviet Union and Central America interviewing survivors, perpetrators and families of victims.

Amid horrifying footage and testimony, he tries to make some sense of it all, seeking the causes — and possible solutions — to prevent future "ethnic cleansings" or, the term he prefers, "eliminationism."

Also during Holocaust Remembrance Week, a limited number of public broadcasting stations will carry two more documentaries, "Holy Lands: Jerusalem & The West Bank" and "House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague," as well as a play-within-a-play, "Imagine This."

"Imagine This," the cinematic version of a recent London stage musical, is arguably the most startling and complex of the week’s offerings.

It opens with a group of bourgeois Jewish families in Warsaw enjoying an outing at a merry-go-round when Nazi dive bombers interrupt the idyll.

Next, crammed into a ghetto, Daniel, the leader of the Jewish inmates, decides to buck up their spirits by putting on a play.

The presence of a flourishing theater, and even an orchestra and library, most notably in the Lodz Ghetto, is historically correct and was dramatized in Joshua Sobol’s memorable "Ghetto."

For his production, Daniel chooses the last stand of the Jews against the Romans at Masada, with obvious similarities to the "actors" current situation.

In parallel, the characters as ghetto inmates and Masada resisters are faced with the choice of surrender or defiance.

NEXT STORY