“The Counterfeiter” and “Who Will Carry the Word?”

Film, Theater

This weekend we saw Who Will Carry the Word ? by Charlotte Delbo performed at the Red Fern Theatre by a very dedicated and moving cast and the Oscar winning The Counterfeiter.

Both pose the question of what is moral behavior under the most extreme immoral conditions of a concentration camp during the Shoah (Holocaust).

Our society is so based on the individual, we tend to want to focus this question on an individual’s behavior and choices but what emerges in both works is how the sum of the behaviors of individual actions adds up to something much more than what any one person does. In The Counterfeiter, we are in the male barracks of the Nazi concentration camp, Sachsenhausen,  in the unique prisoner blocks dedicated to conterfeiting currency. *More on this camp and the specific barrack blocks later.

The lead character, Solly,  a Jewish counterfeiter, goes by his moral code: never be a rat even if you can’t stand the other guy, do anything to keep alive and help others stay alive. Adolf, the communist prisoner has a different code: don’t cooperate with the Nazis and sabotage the counterfeiting work, come what may and perhaps martyrdom is an honorable outcome. This code could easily enrage the Nazis to kill them all. The other inmates depicted just try to stay alive. 

In the end, both of these  points of view are needed by the group for moral and physical survival.

In this film, the “criminal” Solly is much more likable and much less frightening than the ”high-minded” Adolf. The Nazis are portrayed correctly as collectively dispicable, the worst of the worst, of course. Thankfully, there is no trace of any romanticizing  of them or of their motives. No individual action “overcomes” their collective guilt.

This excellent film is very worth seeing and deserves its award.

Who Will Carry the Word, was written by  Charlotte Delbo who was a survivor. The Red Fern Theatre Company partnered with the Remember the Women Institute for this production.

By contrast, we are in the women’s barracks of Auschwitz. These women do not have any skill such as counterfeiting, that they might be able to play for survival’s sake. They are trapped and helpless. Much of the overt dialog of the play involves the question of how to retain the will to live and whether to retain the will to live. What emerges is the way these women try to support and comfort each other. Again, the collective actions surpass any one individual’s action.

This was the first event on the Shoah I have attended in which much of the audience was young, and many probably were not Jewish. After the play, a camp survivor, Bronia Brandman, told her moving, harrowing, determined story of survival as a young pre-teen (and of becoming a teenager) and took questions afterwards. She was asked “Do you believe in God?” and replied with her family’s history which includes descent from illustrous Rabbis, and her love and devotion to Judaism and Jewish culture.

This was tremendously moving. She is an excellent soft-spoken  speaker, and a woman able to convey her experiences and emotions. She is a docent at the Museum of Jewish Heritage a Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park, New York City, and she speaks regularly to school groups. Some in the audience said that this was their first experience meeting an actual survivor.

The film, play and museum are all very, very worthwhile.

If you haven’t ever spoken with a survivor, try to do so before one can not do so any longer- time is running out as they age.

More on this camp and these specific barrack blocks: I will add  the fascinating experiences of  Remember the Women colleagues who visited the precise barracks depicted in the film.  I should receive the comments in a day or two.

Here are Bronia Brandman, Rochelle Saidel, and  the Red Fern Theatre’s, Melanie Williams and Emilie Miller.

Bronia, Rochelle, Melanie and Emilie

Photo courtesy of the Red Fern Theatre Company

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