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TV Reviews : Nazi Grandfather Emerges in ‘Matter of Conscience’

What would you do if your grandfather turned out to have been a Nazi during World War II? It’s all “A Matter of Conscience” in an unusual “CBS Schoolbreak Special” airing today at 3 p.m. on Channels 2 and 8.

Grandpa Joe (Tom Aldredge) is a benign old man who runs the neighborhood plant nursery and has helped his widowed daughter raise 16-year-old Kevin (John Michael Bennett), who adores him.

At the wedding of a Jewish friend’s daughter, one of the guests (Eli Wallach) recognizes Grandpa as Joseph Hauptmann, a former SS guard at the Treblinka concentration camp, and promptly denounces him to the local media.

Grandpa denies it as a case of mistaken identity and Kevin staunchly defends him against pushy reporters and teen tormentors, while trying not to let it affect his relationship with girlfriend Lisa (Ari Meyers), who is Jewish.

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But suddenly, it begins to appear that the “lie” may be true.

Directed by John Rubinstein, Paul W. Cooper’s teleplay doesn’t try for subtlety. It is inarguable that if Grandpa is guilty, he must make expiation, but for Kevin, a lifetime of grandfatherly love seems readily repudiated. There is surprisingly little interaction between the two aside from portentous glances.

Only Viveca Lindfors, as Lisa’s grandmother, quietly adds a few moments of needed depth as she tells Kevin and Lisa of the horror of her own incarceration at Treblinka.

Many teens have little comprehension of what the Holocaust was. To them, it’s just a hazy part of history. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this hour of surface tension will give them the mature understanding needed to see why a “nice” old man might be made to pay for 50-year-old war crimes.

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