Washington, 1996 - "The core message of my play is that Hitler's trial is only a subtext for the real trial, the trial of mankind and of Christianity," said playwright Robert Krakow at a dress rehearsal of The False Witness: The Trial of Adolf Hitler. The play was performed Monday at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.
The drama is frankly polemic and educational in scope, a morality play about good and evil framed as a courtroom drama. The accused, Adolf Hitler, is vigorously defended by Martin Luther who functioned as a kind of "bad angel" or devil's advocate. The "good angel" is prosecutor Thomas Jefferson.
The case is pleaded before a judge of the Eternal Court of Justice. The audience is the jury. Witnesses testifying about the historical roots of anti-Semitism over the ages are William Shakespeare, Richard Wagner, Henry Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Pope Pius XII, the Apostle Paul and Rabbi Moshe Ben Nacham or Ramban.
"I've always been interested in the origin and perpetuation
of anti-Semitic myths," Krakow said. "I wanted to understand
how it is that people could carry out such horrific actions. I
wanted to see Hitler's thought and word patterns, to get into
his mind to study his particular kind of anti-Jewish propaganda."
According to Krakow, "the Holocaust is a culmination of 2,000 years of unrelenting anti-Jewish myths. Once the Jews were accused of deicide and other anti-Semitic myths, such as ritual murder (of Christian children), these myths were used by Christians to bind themselves together. "There had to be a devil; Jews were associated with devil to justify their mass murder."
In his research, Krakow spent five months applying modern information technology to a study of the mind of Hitler. He typed the text of Mein Kampf into a computer and wrote a computer program to analyze language patterns. This methodology helped him comprehend thought processes that shaped Hitler's attitudes, which ultimately found their expression in the Holocaust, Krakow said.
Krakow's research revealed the profound influence on Hitler of the writings of Protestant theologian Martin Luther, German composer Richard Wagner and American industrialist Henry Ford.
"They were the heroes of Mein Kampf", Krakow said. "Ford's
influence on Hitler gave a validity to anti-Semitic Jewish polemics
and helped build momentum for Hitler's issue-oriented campaign."
"Hitler plucked his racial ideology, his concept of the 'blood barrier', right of Wagner's writings. [Quoting Hitler] Whoever wants to know about National Socialism must read Richard Wagner."
Krakow subjected Henry Ford's anti-Semitic publication The International Jew (1922) to the same computer analysis he applied to Mein Kampf (1924/25) and discovered that parts of Ford's manuscript had been plagiarized by Hitler.
Copies of Ford's publication were found in Hitler's office, where they were translated into European languages. Ford is known to have heavily financed the publication and distribution, Krakow said.
Krakow's research into anti-Semitic myths also took him to the formal teachings of the Christian Church from its early history through the Reformation. The Apostle Paul claimed that Jesus' teachings, as interpreted by Paul himself, supplanted the Torah as the final authority on G_d's word: Paul called the Jews a "cursed" people, Krakow said. He noted that anti-Semitism also was rampant in the writings of Martin Luther during the Reformation.
"I felt intuitively that if people could see -- if I could
bring to life -- the characters and have them speak authentically,
the audience would receive insights they couldn't get from a book,
such as Roosevelt's dilemma and Wagner's philosophy and motives;
I felt strongly that actors would penetrate the subject more deeply
than text on a page."
"The play is about anti-Semitism, of which the Holocaust is the worst example," he said. According to Krakow, The False Witness explores the causes of the Holocaust.
"It's about anti-Semitism, about how we got there, at that point in time. I could have set this play in any century during the past 1700 years, and it would have been true to what had happened up to that time; yet the worst, most awful tragedy of all happened in the middle of the 20th century.
"We think of ourselves as modern, but look what happened in the modern era. You can't hold one entity solely responsible for what happened," Krakow said.
The False Witness is a powerful history lesson, an education about the human capacity for evil.