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Tom Chaney: R780: The shock of reminder

Of Writers and their Books R780, The Shock of Reminder is a review of And Then They Came for Me a play at the Kentucky Repertory Theatre in 2007. The essay first appeared 16 September 2007
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Tom Chaney: Shadows on the Wall

By Tom Chaney

The Shock of Reminder

When I attend the theatre I expect a good story. I expect that story to tie in with my own knowledge and to cause me to view the world in startling new ways. And Then They Came for Me did just that for me at Kentucky Repertory Theatre last Saturday night [2007].

It has been sixty-two years since the first allied troops entered the death camps in Germany and Poland. The sight that confronted those soldiers at that time and the complicity of humanity in the appalling treatment of prisoners of the Nazi regime must never leave us.

From 1933 about six million citizens of Europe vanished. The victims were primarily Jews, political prisoners, Social Democrats, Communists, trade unionists, habitual criminals, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, beggars, vagrants, hawkers, and the disabled.

These millions, deemed not worthy of living, were gassed, shot, or worked to death in the concentration camps.

Incredibly, the full force of these events in German occupied territory was pretty much kept from the rest of the world. What the soldiers found at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka came as a terrible shock to the rest of the world.

Because we are too young or too far removed from these events, or because they are so horrible that our minds cannot hold them, we must have reminders from time to time such as And Then They Came for Me.

The trials of the leaders of the vanquished Nazis at Nuremburg after the war told us much. In 1952 the remarkable Diary of Anne Frank put a human face on this most inhumane blotch on the world's soul.

Several plays have dealt with differing aspects of the Holocaust, namely Hochhuth's The Deputy which deals with the Vatican's role in suppressing the horrors. From 1963 until 1965 the Frankfurt-Auschwitz trials focused on the involvement of industrialists in Germany. Those trials gave birth to a stunning theatrical production in 1965. Carl Weiss wrote The Investigation. First produced in Europe, it came to the New York stage just in time for me to see it at Christmas of 1966. The dialog is taken unadulterated straight from the trial testimony.<

Walter Kerr, drama critic of the New York Times wrote "These [accused] are no handful of particular people. They are something deeper, more appalling than that. They are nothing less than humanity's own delight in ridding itself of humanity."

The first Holocaust survivor I knew was a kind, gentle Dutch woman who taught music at the college where I first taught. Some fifteen years after the terror, she was getting on with life among the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

Although we never spoke of the war, Rose taught me that we must never forget just how fragile is our veneer of civilization. The camps could not silence the music of her soul. Fortunately, she emerged on this side of hell -- her musical voice surviving in a frail body.

> The title of the play at Kentucky Repertory Theatre has a poignancy of it own. It echoes words attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoeller, an early follower of Hitler who, by 1933, was active in opposition. He was convicted of treason and narrowly escaped death in Dachau.

Niemoeller said,
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up
because I was a Protestant.

And then they came for me --
and by that time
no one was left to speak up.

Because we must know and remember the possibility of cruelty beneath our skin, it is vital that And Then They Came for Me be on our "must see" list. Its shock of reminder is good for the soul.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-09-16 12:35:38
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