Mel Mermelstein: Leonard Nimoy
William Cox: Dabney Coleman
Jane Mermelstein: Blythe Danner
Richard Fusilier: Paul Hampton
Bernie Mermelstein: Jason Person
Edie Mermelstein: Juliet Sorcey
David Mermelstein: Nicholas Fee
Kenny Mermelstein: Ben Gregory
Elsie Smolena: Hanna Hertelendy
Rabbi Hier: David Margulies
Rabbi Cooper: Thomas Bellin
Ms. Teitler: Tracy Brooks Swope
Schorr: Leslie Morris
Lorraine: Beverly Hope Atkinson
Judge Johnson: Thomas Keena
Mel Mermelstein is the only survivor of his family who all have been killed in a concentration camp because they were Jewish. He was a child at the time and was deported from Hungary, imprisoned and mistreated as the others, forced to live under inhuman conditions.
Mel puts explanations underneath and describes how items were used and under which conditions people had to suffer to anybody interested in learning about the holocaust.
He also visits school classes and answers questions of the children.
His life drastically changes when a letter arrives, addressed to him challenging him to present prove of the Holocaust or – in case he cannot do so – remain silent about it. The „Institute of Historical Research“, people claiming it never happened, offered $ 50,000 as a reward for anybody presenting prove of the holocaust. Their aim is to silence those who care that the Holocaust will not be forgotten. If anybody came up and tried to bring forward evidence, the case would take place in one of their own „courts“ leaving little chance for the challenged person for a fair case and being treated as an offender.
The family has mixed reactions. All of them are supportive to their father, but got different personal interests. Mel’s wife, goes with him all the way. The eldest son, Bernie, struggles for acceptance of his father in his needs and avoids the exhibition his father works for in his spare time. The daughter is still young and shows him her love, while she is more interested in the father as a person than in his involvement with the topic. The youngest son is very interested in his father’s history, which he realizes is a part of his own. He wants to listen to the stories and to his tattoo showing the number he has had in the camp.
Knowing he could not live with a lie or being hushed Mel Mermelstein visits any institution he can think of to get help how to deal wit the letter. No one offers help and every institution and person advises him to back off because there is no chance to present any prove they would not be able to destroy in their own court. Everybody wants to help him, but no one sees a chance to be successful – it has been tried before.
One person even takes the letter and throws it into the dustbin, saying that it belongs there, while she’s obviously worried about him wanting to help him. Mel cannot ignore the challenge which would leave him look like a liar and betray all he worked for so hard. Not only did his family die in the Holocaust, but by backing down he would be part of those responsible for the Holocaust is not being remembered. After an inner fight he takes the letter out of the dustbin, stating to the woman that she has no right to throw away his letter for him. It is addressed to him and it is up to him how to handle it.
A scene in his office – he’s running a woodwork business – shows that Mel does not seem to be the typical fighter. When a wrong delivery arrives, he tells the secretary she should be more strict and she answers ironically: „Yes, Mel, you are such a tough guy!“ showing clearly that she likes him the way he is – not such a tough guy. And now it is on him to fight an organization which tries to force him to remain silent. Alone, for everybody and any institution advises him to handle the letter as the woman had done.
Even lawyers cannot find a helpful solution – until he gets to a lawyer, William Cox, who’s sorry too that he cannot do anything at first.
He too sees the desperation in Mel’s face and keeps thinking about the enormous injustice of the situation … until he finds a way, knocks at the Mermelstein’s door in the middle of the night and suggests his plan: to answer the letter, accepting their terms. The institution, he says, does no really want to find prove, but to get rid of people who remember. They would not take his offer to present the truth, because they would expect him to ignore the letter – which would be the same as admitting that the Holocaust is not a fact.
Or they expect him to offer to come but not really make it. Cox‘ idea is based on a case in which a simple breaking of a contract provides a law case – in an American official court. If no answer to his letter came in 30 days time, the institute would have broken a contract. After a while and after discussing it with his wife and the family, Mel hires Cox to pursue the case. He answers the letter and anxiously observes the daily post to arrive – no answer from them.
On the 30th day, he gets up early and rushes to the post office where the post is sorted. He finds the postman and receives his own post. „I hope you found what you are looking for,“ the postman wishes him. „No, no, no! Luckily not!“ Mel shouts back in relieved excitement rushing to the lawyer’s home. As happy as they are in the moment, both know it’s just begun….. They accuse the institution for breaking of contract. A law case is filled.
Before the day of the hearing arrives the months are filled with tragedy. Too much background work, preparations, research and reading must be done, so that Mel’s work is suffering. And so is the family. Mel to go to a show in school where the daughter has got a role to play. She tells him all about it and says that what he is doing is more important than a performance in school. Mel is working long nights showing signs of exhaustion and the eldest feels that he is not important to his father. He shows his anger while discussing the situation with his father. „When I say ‚I am hungry‘, you always say ‚You never experienced real hunger‘, referring to hunger in the concentration camp. I simply cannot compete with ‚them‘!“
Understandingly Mel gets aware how deep his involvement with the history affects the family. Though they play ball together and share meals with harmony, humor and discussions, the case becomes a permanent present threat. One day the young daughter opens a letter addressed to the family – to find cut of hair from gassed Jews as stated in the letter. She screams and is hugged, but all suffer under the cruelty and inhuman actions still possible in the late 20th century. Like the day they find a dead pig in front of their door and masses of reporters recklessly pursuing them for commends. And in their preparations they are forced to handle dirty literature, sleazy drawings and lies without end. Hardly being able to believe all that ignorance being possible in this part of the world in this time, they go on with the preparations taking their toll, too.
Mel and Cox go to a meeting of people denying the holocaust has happened. Mel is supposed to face them, to become aware what lies ahead and to control himself.
Succeeding in the first two, he simply has to loose control when hearing that what people have been forced to suffer is publicly called a lie.
An address of a friendly old Lady, a relative, might help them to find another witness. When Mel and his wife visit her, all seems to be all right, until they mention the camp. Her neurotic fear is revealed by the thought of it. She still sees „them“ coming and closes the doors, hushes the Mermelsteins and tells them that „they” are coming every night. Mel and his wife see the traumatic impact the concentration camp still has on her. They comfort her and surely cannot mention the camp again.
The nerves of the family are put to another test when they get a call: There is a fire in the exhibition. As Mel runs to the car the eldest son suddenly decides to go with his father. Firemen all around they get informed that it was a false alarm. Anyway Mel wants to check on the exhibition and finds nothing damaged or missing. Bernie walks around the rooms in wonder.
Slowly he realizes what it is all about and admits to his father that he hasn’t been here for a long time. He begins to understand his father and is interested in the photos. On one picture he sees a figure amongst the skinny victims and asks: „Is this you, father?“ Mel confirms and shares that he was about his son’s age at the time. Suddenly they become afraid: What if the fake call was to get them away from the house? They phone to find out that the family is o. k. The more incidents occur the less convinced Mel becomes. He thinks of his family and what the case is doing to them. And he thinks of giving up. Which he suggests. Now all the family is sure: They have gone so far and they go on backing up their father’s case.
Days later a meeting with two representatives of the institution reveals their practices.
Twisting his statements, recklessly ignoring the suffering and blaming him to have invented or just imagined the killing of his parents … – all said smilingly to provoke him. It results in sad despair.
Unable to grasp the unbelievable coldness and bending of truth Mel begins to cry. At home his family is awaiting him. Exhausted and out of voice after hours of interrogation Mel shares with them: „They can make you say anything. There really is a chance we can loose the case.“
Finally in court: Self assured representatives from the institution against a family and a lawyer who know that so far the lies could not have been stopped. They reassure each other by eye contact. The judge begins the case by stating that this is officially a case of a broken contract. But he is not willing to treat it as such. The main subject of the case will handle the question whether there has been a holocaust or not.
Cross examination of witnesses. In the end the judge asks Mel why he does not stop talking about the holocaust. Mel shares that he was the only survivor and that he has promised his father, before he was killed, never to stop talking about what happened there and whatever happens he would never forget his promise given to his father. The ruling of the court states that the holocaust is a fact and that it is a crime to deny the fact.
The personal witnessing of Mel Mermelstein about the concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland was one part besides proven historical facts. This was the first court ruling to officially state that there was a holocaust. A relieved family and the lawyer fall into each others arms. They have achieved that the holocaust is treated as a non deniable fact from now on. – knowing the lies will go on …