A former elite Israeli soldier infiltrated a group of Russian neo-Nazis, posing as one of their own in order to document their activities and try to solve a gruesome murder.
Documentarist Vladi Antonevicz, an alumnus of Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, told Channel 2 on Friday that his journey into the dark heart of Russia began after he saw a 2007 internet video of an execution-style double murder committed by neo-Nazis.
The disturbing clip, and the brashness of those who distributed it, led Antonevicz to concoct a plan which most people would find unthinkable: to travel to Russia, disguised as an extremist himself, and film his attempts to get to the bottom of the killings.
“Many tried before me (to solve the murder) and they all failed,” he told Channel 2. “So I decided to try something new: I would ask the killer.”
The result is the film “Credit for Murder,” which was screened during this month’s Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival in Tel Aviv, and will soon air on Israeli cable’s Channel 8.
‘If you made a mistake, you would probably get a knife in your neck’
As a former soldier in the Israeli military’s Duvdevan unit, an elite task force which specializes in undercover operations in the heart of hostile territory, Antonevicz was no stranger to the concept of disguising himself as the enemy to achieve his objectives. But here he would be exposing himself for far greater stretches of time, and with no backup at hand should things go awry.
Antonevicz traveled to Russia several times over a period of six years, slowly befriending and gaining the trust of neo-Nazi leaders operating outside of Moscow. He was joined by an Israeli cameraman and a Russian former soldier.
Antonevicz told extremist groups that he was a Russian-born American journalist who wanted to learn about their lives. In order to gain their trust he shaved his head, adopted their style of dress and even wore makeup to appear more white.
He was not oblivious to the irony on display: the descendants of communists who despised the Nazis and all that they represented have now come to adore and idolize them.
“For seventy-odd years the Russians were brainwashed with one ideology,” he told Channel 2. “And then the Soviet Union collapsed and a very, very serious ideological vacuum was created. Into this vacum began to seep all sorts of ideas from the periphery… They spread like cancer.”
While Antonevicz explained that the neo-Nazi scene consisted of many organizations, some of them in conflict with one another, they had some things in common.
“They all hate the Jews,” he said wryly.
He had to hope that nothing and no one would give him away, he said, “because if at any stage… you made a mistake, you would probably get a knife in your neck at some point.”
One masked neo-Nazi tells Antonevicz during an interview that “Even if you cut a black in line, that’s already good, that warms your heart. And if I come to him and murder him, I’m not doing it for myself but for everyone: I’m cleaning trash from the streets.”
During another conversation held by a group of activists over dinner, a woman argues that one shouldn’t spray paint swastikas on Jewish graves, as doing so sullies the holiness of the Nazi symbol.
On one occasion he had to agree to be shot at point-blank range wearing a shoddy protective vest to prove his manliness
“It demeans the swastika, your own symbol, it’s stupid,” she says.
On his ability to sit and listen to such conversations, Antonevicz said he forced himself into the state of mind of his subjects.
“I’m sitting there not as a Jew but as an instrument,” he said. “I have to create a very relaxed atmosphere and my method to create a relaxed atmosphere is to identify with them. And I do. What, Jews? They obviously blew up the World Trade Center, obviously! The Holocaust? Wonderful… You get used to it.”
Antonevicz’s journey involved many hair-raising ordeals. On one occasion he had to agree to be shot at point-blank range wearing a shoddy protective vest to prove his manliness. On another he was forced to take part in a “friendly” knife fight with a neo-Nazi leader.
The filmmaker said he later realized that he was not just dealing with isolated extremist cells, but that there were far greater forces at play: the Russian government was entirely aware of the neo-Nazis’ activities, he alleged, and chooses to allow them to operate to a certain degree, for its own interests.
“When (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel comes to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and asks him ‘Why are you acting like a madman?’ he can always point to the right and say ‘Angela, it’s either me or them, which do you prefer?'”
Antonevicz did not reveal during his interview whether he managed to solve his murder investigation, but the movie is perhaps no less about his own experiences, which seem to have affected him deeply.
“At first, you do it because you can,” he said of his motivations. “Afterwards, you do it because you can’t not do it. It becomes personal.