PARADISE GHETTO

A play about Theresienstadt, the Nazi concentration camp for artists, in Czechoslovakia. First produced in 1987 at Actor’s Alley Repertory Theatre, LA, directed by Bobbi Holtzman, produced by Jordan Charney.

FROM A REVIEW OF PARADISE GHETTO

"Plays within this play — fiercely allegorical, bitingly sarcastic skits enacted by Theresienstadts’s resident thespians — are stage alongside glimpses of the camp’s weary, bitter mayor … The effect is fantastic. Like a movie that rapidly cuts back and forth between two concurrent events, is able to encompass the whole range of emotions prevalent in the camp, almost simultaneously. … The play is realistic without being overbearing, quickly paced without ignoring the complex feelings, moral dilemmas and attitudes of these hearty, hopeful individuals." Jody Leader, Los Angeles, Daily News, October 15, 1987.

EXCERPT

The exterior of the ghetto is faintly visible in the light just before sunrise. Zev is keeping a lookout for something happening near the gate, something ominous which we can't see. One light is on in the drafting office where Peter Kien is drawing. Korsch stares at nine white file cards he has pinned up. The display rack tells us it is February 20, 1942, and that the population of the camp is now 8,215.

Simultaneously, a couple of candles light the cabaret. The acting troupe sits informally on the stage, facing the audience, cold, wrapped in blankets. Ilse, her coat over her grey dress, reads from her notebook of Heinrich Heine poems.

ILSE (standing): "I am the Sword, I am the Flame.

I have lit your way in darkness,

And, when the fight began,

I battled ahead in the front lines."

KORSCH (quiet, awed, to Peter):

You're drawing as if you were there.

(Korsch pins up a large drawing that Peter has just finished. The drawing is of a hanging.)

ILSE: "Here round me lie the bodies of my friends,

But the victory was ours. ..

Amid the wild shouts of triumph,

Chants of the funeral rites...

(Myrik is beating his drum softly, rhythmically, with a muffled stick.)

KORSCH (reading the names from the cards he's pinned up): Otto Weinberg, born July 7, 1923, for the crime of writing a letter to his grandmother, asking for a food parcel, and admitting it. Giri Grabe, born August 4, 1923, for the crime of mailing a letter in a gentile mailbox, and admitting it. Solomon Teichman, born August 24, 1902, for the crime of gesturing with his hand and hitting S.S. Lieutenant Haindel by mistake. Arnost Loewitt, glazier, June 6, 1889, for the crime of taking off his yellow star with the intention to go into a store to buy a honey cake. Pavel Winowsky, medical student, for entering a gentile store. Hyme Eitel, travelling salesman -- like Edelstein -- born April 6, 1921, found not wearing his yellow star. Julius Schiller.. Josef Gross... he had a birthday three days ago. He's fifty-one...

   (Peter has finished another drawing which Korsch posts.)

LILY (reading from Ilse's Heine notebook):

"I've spoken, with all my power,

The pain of a thousand years.

The great and the small, and even cold Lords began to cry;

And girls and flowers are grieving;

And stars shed tears in the sky."

   (Lily passes the notebook to Myrik.)

MYRIK (reading): "And the tears flow on forever,

Southward in silent ranks;

They flow to the Jordan River,

And overwhelm the banks."

(The sound of a shot. From the area of the gate, stage right, Zucker comes running, zig-zagging crazily through the ghetto, passing the cabaret on his way to the drafting office. In the drafting office Korsch is posting Peter's final drawing of the hangings. Then he diminishes the population figure by nine. Zev, the lookout, sees Vanek arriving, dragging a shovel, cold and numb. He signals the others inside the cabaret. Myrik and Vera come out to catch Vanek in their arms. They take him inside the cabaret, wrap him in blankets. The troupe continues to sit in vigil. Vera sings the Kol Nidre. Zucker reaches the drafting office where he is taken in by Korsch and Peter who wrap blankets around him. His teeth chatter. He is crying, and has difficulty speaking.)

KORSCH (rubbing Zucker's hands): What was the shot?

ZUCKER: Solomon was still alive. Jakub asked Seidl to shoot him.

KORSCH (finding something in Zucker's hand): This?

ZUCKER (crying): Stransky's wedding ring. For his wife. The rope broke. The hangman —

PETER (to Korsch): What hangman? Theirs?

KORSCH: Ours. That pathologist from Brunn.

ZUCKER (getting up, walking around the room, his blanket on his shoulders): -- told Seidl it was traditional to pardon when the rope breaks. Seidl screamed, "No!" He was drunk, wild.

    (Zucker tries to wipe his eyes, his nose.)

PETER (handing him a handkerchief): What happened to Giri?

ZUCKER: Seidl told him he was a coward. Giri said "I'm not a coward," and put the rope around his own neck.

(Zucker cries more. There is more light outside. Edelstein is returning through the gate. He looks like he is carrying a heavy burden. He enters the drafting office.)

EDELSTEIN (taking a deep breath): Otto, go upstairs and lie down. Or -- better -- go home.

KORSCH: What about the others?

EDELSTEIN: They'll be hung too. I told them I'd resign before I watched it.

KORSCH: And the escapees from the transport?

EDELSTEIN: In the Little Fortress, God help them. They're to be shipped East. Isidore, a memorandum to the Unit Elders: as of today every order from headquarters to be obeyed to the letter. We pit all our mind and muscle behind their damned war production projects, every one of them.

   (He looks Korsch in the eyes.)

Oh, and there's something that involves you.

KORSCH: Me?

EDELSTEIN: You won't believe this. Eichmann wants a special study group to translate the Talmud into German.

KORSCH (dumbfounded): Why?

EDELSTEIN: I don't know.

KORSCH: Don't they have a Talmud in German?

EDELSTEIN: I don't know! But it's clear -- now -- isn't it, that we have to cooperate with them completely?

KORSCH : And just what does translating the Talmud into German have to do with me?

EDELSTEIN: What do you mean, "What does it have to do with me?" You had an expensive education, you studied the Talmud, you read Hebrew, you --

KORSCH: Mr. Chief Elder, you're mistaken. I don't read Hebrew.

EDELSTEIN: But you do. You —

(He stops himself, realizing what Korsch is saying. Korsch slowly takes off his eyeglasses, and polishes the lenses.)

KORSCH: I've noticed lately that my eyes are getting worse. I can barely read small print anymore -- even with these. They're useless to me now.

(He drops the eyeglasses, and stamps on them. Edelstein, attempting to keep his dignity, starts up the stairs.)

EDELSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you for your cooperation, Isidore. You've made my work so much easier.

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Unpublished

performance inquiries: Gilbert Parker, William Morris Agency, New York, NY (212) 903-1328

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