This week is the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht and, of course, all of us need to be vigilant about discrimination and oppression. When one group is attacked, mankind is attacked.
My husband Burton and I feel very strongly about this. Antisemitism has been on the rise again. You can find troubling reports in news media, including this column by the Boston Globe’s Mike Ross, who just visited Europe. His column includes these details: “Recent targeted acts against Jews include four people fatally shot in a Jewish museum in Brussels as well as the murder of three Jewish children and a rabbi in a Jewish school in France.”
As concerned Americans, what can we do?
Recently, my sister, Anne, mentioned seeing “Wiesenthal,” a new one-man play in California. It was researched, written and performed by Tom Dugan, an Irish Catholic. As a kid, Tom read comic books and dressed up as superheroes. He later learned that his father, awarded the Bronze Battle Star and Purple Heart in WW2, was, in fact, “a true hero.”
Tom “pestered” his father for information. He was most impressed by his father’s role in liberating the Langenstein-Zwieberge concentration camp in Germany.
Tom was able to feel 35-year-old shrapnel under his father’s skin. He said to his father, “Dad, you must really hate Germans.”
His father replied, “There are all types of people, good and bad. I don’t judge them by what group they belong to, but by how they behave.”
It was his father’s rejection of collective guilt, Tom says, that first drew him to the story of Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal escaped Vienna and survived the Holocaust, though 89 family members perished. Wiesenthal dedicated his life to pursuing hidden Nazi war criminals, bringing 1,100 to trial. He also fought for the rights of Soviet, Polish, Gypsy, Jehovah’s Witness and homosexual victims.
Several film versions of Wiesenthal’s life have circled the globe, including The Odessa File in 1974 that actually helped Wiesenthal’s team eventually track down a real-life war criminal in his Buenos Aires hiding place. Actors portraying Wiesenthal include Sir Ben Kingsley, who played him in a 1989 HBO drama, The Murderers Among Us, which isn’t available on DVD.
So, I was curious and asked my sister to be honest: “Is the play good?”
Her reply: “Very.”
Dugan was so good that he literally became Simon Wiesenthal on stage, Anne said. So good that she and husband Mike were investing in the New York production.
A light turned on. Anne has a theatrical background. If she said the play was good, it was. It could, I realized, help raise awareness about the consequences of discrimination.
The team behind the play was solid. Producer Karyl Lynn Burns develops powerful work at the Rubicon, a small theater in Ventura, CA. Main investor, Daryl Roth, has produced more Pulitzer Prize winning plays (7) than anyone.
The New York run still needed some funding. Karyl Lynn sent me a 6-minute video. The performance was tender, funny and compelling. I wept through all 6 minutes. On my say-so, Burton green lighted the investment.
Karyl Lynn shared good news. Five thousand school children would see the play thanks to the Stephen Spielberg Shoah Foundation. Some of those children were bound to get the message.
Friends know how frugal I am. I dye my own hair (also a time saver) and do my own nails (ditto). I never jump into things.
Investing in the theater is risky, Karyl Lynn warned. I know that. Deciding within 6 minutes to do make such an “investment” is totally out of character. I felt, and still feel, honored by the opportunity. This is an investment in our legacy.
This investment even comes with a Godsign. If you’ve read my book, Godsigns, you know I love acorns. Their physical charm and their existential power to become giant oak trees. In 1996, when we built our house in Franklin, MI, I decorated with acorn hardware, tiles and light fixtures and named it Acorn Hill. Like an acorn, may this play grow into something powerful enough to help shelter all of our grandchildren.
The off-Broadway theater where Wiesenthal is playing?
So, what can we do?
Seventy-six years ago, journalists in Europe filed news stories that circled the globe about Kristallnacht. Few outside of Europe took those reports seriously. Few took action.
Most people are unable to invest in theatrical productions, but all of us can get involved in spreading the message: We need to watch for signs of discrimination and we all can take action as a result. Tell friends about Simon Wiesenthal’s work. Tell friends about this play.
The New York production opens Tuesday, Nov. 4 and runs for 6 weeks. For more on “Wiesenthal,” go to www.wiesenthaltheplay.com. A special commemoration of Kristallnacht will be held on November 9 after the play.