- Dramaturgy, and: The Parable of the Dictator
poetry, Auschwitz, Judaism, Jewish heritage, poet, ancestry, Holocaust, trauma
I'm writing a play about a Kommandant at Auschwitzwho recognizes one of the Jewish prisonersas a famous poet, and as the Kommandanthas poetic aspirations himself, he pulls the prisoneraway from the work detail to receive poetry lessonsfrom the celebrated Jewish writer. The bulk of the playis their discussions of poetry, which the poetis initially reluctant to have, the power differentialbeing so stark, and though he flatters the Kommandantat first, when he begins to see his Nazi pupil'strue devotion to the art, as well as his untrainedand untapped talent, he goes to work in earnest,and at times they are both simply loversof the German language, though the truth of theirsituation often interrupts. In the last act,the Kommandant is on trial for his crimes,and in the days before he is to be executed,he begs the poet to publish his work under his own name—the Nazi's writing under the Jew's name—because as a Nazi, he feels his own name is disgraced,but he believes so strongly in poetry that it mattersmore to him that his work survive than that anyoneknow it was his work. The play is pulled entirelyfrom my imagination, a careful rereadingof Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, and the poetic ideasof Rilke and Goethe, with a smattering of Nietzsche.In readings of the play, the Kommandanthas seemed more noble than I had intended—in many ways,more noble than the Jew, because the Jew is sufferingby no fault of his own, while the Kommandant is torturedby conscience, and driven by a sense of poetic callingthat separates him from the Germans around him. [End Page 72] On the morning of the third workshop reading, I watcheda video of two Russians on an ice-dancing reality showperforming as Jews in Auschwitz. I was sickened,even though I couldn't follow the pantomimed action,and I wondered if I was producing Holocaust kitsch myself,if my work was as disgusting as theirs, though I knewif I asked any of my team, they would reassure methat I am doing important work that rises to the levelof art. Last night, during a break in the workshop of the play,I told the story of how my grandmother, upon learningthat her entire family had died in the camps,had burned the photo albums of everyone she had loved.I have told that story many, many times,without feeling much more than regret, or sympathy,but this time I broke down crying, and I couldn't stop.Everyone at the table came to comfort me,and I felt ridiculous, but the only thing I could say was,"It's time for us to go. This isn't a place we can live anymore."I left the studio embarrassed, and later that day,I resigned from the production. I don't think they believedthat I was serious, and they'll expect me to show upat the next table reading. I won't. The play will go onthough I can have nothing more to do with it.This morning, after taking a shirt off the hanger,I looked in the mirror and realized I hadn't put it on.Without thinking, I had started packing a bag. [End Page 73]
The Parable of the Dictator
After the death of the dictator, his son wanted him embalmed. His son wanted him on perpetual display in a glass box.
No one knew what the dictator had wanted. The dictator had made it a crime to speak of his death. He had not left instructions for his corpse.
The dictator's son summoned our country's most skilled embalmers and put them to work embalming his father. He announced the project with great fanfare.
Shortly after, the dictator's daughter interrupted the embalmers, putting a stop to the project. She wanted the dictator's body to be hollowed out for her...