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Holocast Survivor Raps Cbs-tv for Redgrave Casting

August 15, 1979
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Alex Dekel is enraged by the choice of Vanessa Redgrave to portray a concentration camp survivor in the CBS-TV movie based on Fania Fenelon’s “Playing for Time.” Dekel, a former inmate of Birkenau-Auschwitz where he first met Fenelon, was one of 400 children selected for experimentation by Josef Mengele.

Now a caseworker for HIAS and a freelance journalist, Dekel said, “We are faced with a situation of shocking irony. Vanessa Redgrave is selected to play the role of Fania in a CBS special movie! This is the same Vanessa Redgrave who has praised the people who are killing Jews today just as the Nazis did three decades ago.”


Dekel made this statement in an open letter to playwright Arthur Miller, who defended Redgrave’s selection, and to Bernard So fronski, CBS vice president of special programs for CBS Entertainment. He sent a copy of the letter to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In his letter, where he noted that “My (concentration camp) number, B14844, remains tatooed on my forearm,” Dekel wrote:

“Even as a child, I remember how my friends and I were Touched by the tragic spectacle of the orchestra–women with their heads shaved, faces drawn and sorrowful, dressed in the striped garb of an inmate. They were truly as Fania Fenelon herself has put it, playing for time, making music in the midst of mankind’s greatest tragedy. They knew the destiny that awaited us all: the ever burning ovens. Yet, even in the horror of the death camp, they maintained their dignity and their integrity as artists.”

Dekel continued: “How can she (Redgrave) bring compassion to the role when she herself has advocated the destruction of the State of Israel? Is this the memorial you wish to have to the women who died in the orchestra in Auschwitz? We, the few survivors, cry out against your cruel insensitivity.”


Dekel, in his letter, also dismissed statements by Miller and Sofronski that Redgrave was suited for the role and that she was an outstanding actress. “We, the protesters, do not question Vanessa Redgrave’s acting ability or her right to perform. No, please do not try to channel our complaints into spurious dead ends. What we profoundly question is the judgement of CBS and of you, Mr. Miller, to cast an avowed enemy of Israel in the role of a Jewish woman in Auschwitz.”

Dekel, who maintains a friendship with Fenelon, has fried, without success, to reach the author at her apartment in Paris. He told the JTA that he is sure Fenelon would not remain silent on CBS’ casting of Ms. Redgrave.

According to recent interviews in the French press, Fenelon said she, too, would prefer someone else “rather than Vanessa Redgrave” to play the title role in the CBS movie. Fenelon said she feels that Redgrave doesn’t have the right personality to interpret the role, which she says is “part of the fight against racism and discrimination.”

Fenelon, now 62 years old, said she herself favors a Palestinian homeland, but insisted that Redgrave’s association with the Palestinian cause is “not the point.” What is really needed for the role Fenelon said, “is someone who knows what racism and discrimination are like.”

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