Santa Fe, 1996 - Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in the last days of World War II, and thus escaped standing trial for the hideous crimes he perpetrated while Chancellor of the German Reich from 1933 to 1945. His virulent anti-semitism circulated from the publication of Mein Kampf in 1929, through the carefully choreographed speeches and propelled his rise to political power, to the enactment of the Final Solution, which resulted in the extermination of 6 million Jews in concentration camps across Europe. Hitler has been characterized as a madman, as evil incarnate, and simultaneously, as a brilliant tactician and consummate political genius. Never before, however, has he been forced to defend his actions in a court of law.
Ana Gallegos y Reinhardt, of Reinhardt Productions, brings to Santa Fe a new play by Robert Krakow, The False Witness, that puts Hitler, and in the course of the drama, all of humankind - on the stand, as the play explores responsibility for the Holocaust and for the persecution of Jews through the ages. Reinhardt, who has produced more than 30 plays in Santa Fe since 1990, referred to The False Witness as a "wake-up call", a theatrical experience that should stimulate thought, discussion and community reflection. Post-show discussions with the playwright will follow each performance.
Described as a morality play, The False Witness, questions the placement of blame for the Holocaust by delving deeply into the tradition of anti-Semitism, exposing the thinkers and leaders whose words and actions shaped Hitler's genocidal mindset. Using the form of a trial as a template, Krakow dramatizes historical material culled from several years of meticulous research into Hitler's beliefs and thought processes. In no way wishing to exonerate Hitler, Krakow does not spread the blame thin, but rather intensifies it exponentially as he traces the river of hatred that has coursed through many of humanity's (and Hitler's) role models, including St. Paul, Martin Luther, Shakespeare, Richard Wagner, Henry Ford and Pope Pius XII.
"I was a great American! I do not belong in this courtroom!" cries automotive pioneer Henry Ford while under cross-examination by Thomas Jefferson, counsel for the prosecution. Ford's dissemination of anti-Semitic literature, including a free newsletter for every Ford customer, and his substantial financial support of the Nazi party may come as a shock to Americans who associate his name solely with domestic cars. Likewise Martin Luther, portrayed in history books and catechism classes as a righteous rebel who dared to rise up against the religious establishment, utters a constant spew of Jew-hating bile-all in his own words.
Krakow has appended an extensive bibliography to the end of The False Witness, footnoting actual spoken or written sections, and documenting every ideological reference. "The more one studies Hitler," Krakow said, "the more unoriginal he becomes. He plagiarized Mein Kampf from Luther, Ford and Wagner."
Krakow began work on The False Witness by typing the entire 700-page manuscript of Mein Kampf into his computer. He then created a program to scan the document for key words and set about tracking Hitler's word associations.
"I would call myself a thought detective," Krakow said, considering the psychological mosaic that emerged from an estimated 15,000 computer scans of Mein Kampf. For instance, the words Jew, International Jew, blood and combinations pairing Jew with predatory images such as viper were repeated thousands of times.
Anti-Semitism can be traced back to the pre-Christian era, as Jews suffered massacres under both the Greek and Roman Empires. However, the revelation of the New Testament added sensational, religious dimensions to what previously had been a tribal conflict. The myth of the blood-thirsty, Christ-killing Jew was born. Jews were executed randomly out of Christian fear that the blood of Christian children was an ingredient in Jewish Passover rites.
Rumors abounded that Jews had deliberately started the Black Plague by poisoning the community well. Christian ideology, as can be noted in the writings of Martin Luther, proselytized those myths and used the New Testament to justify Jewish persecution: Since Jews did not recognize Christ as the Messiah, it was assumed they had forsaken God and thus earned his eternalwrath to be carried out by his subjects on Earth.
The False Witness takes place in purgatory, the Christian realm of timelessness between heaven and hell, a place of misery for its inhabitants since their final judgment has not been rendered.
The Criminal Court of the High Tribunal calls Adolf Hitler to the stand, charged with crimes against humanity. Hitler does not deny the torture, enslavement and murder of two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population, but does deny that his actions constitute a crime.
"I am innocent," he claims. "I was merely carrying out the wishes of mankind."
To see Hitler as the hideous, modern culmination of a recurring human desire is to view humans as potential vessels for beliefs, good or evil, each vessel with a different shape and carrying capacity. Krakow's angle on evil beliefs also invokes comparison to a virus, which takes root and replicates, nearly always a step or two ahead of the humans who try to stamp it out.
"Hitler moves in inverse proportion to the historical background," Krakow theorized. In other words, the larger Hitler becomes, "the less we have to look at history," the writer said. "The smaller he becomes, the larger historical background becomes evident."
By viewing Hitler as an isolated, frothing, murderous madman, we are able to dismiss him as an aberration, a rip in the human fabric. Krakow sees the human fabric as already weakened, and in Hitler's cold-blooded, well-trained hands, it was able to be turn asunder.
Audience participation is a key in The False Witness, with spectators sworn in collectively as the jury. When producer Reinhardt first received Krakow's script, "what was going . . . was the O. J. Simpson trial. Americans (have learned) to be jurors - watching the trial, the polls."
Reinhardt felt that The False Witness tapped into not only issues of racial strife, but also held resonance for an American society mesmerized by the media.
She began production plans in October, securing Santa Fe theater veteran Keni Cohen, as director, and the 11-member cast was in place by March.
"Research is the real key to finding the truth of (this) play," said Cohen, whose theatrical experience has involved much intensive enemble work. The cast viewed Holocaust documentaries and interviews, read character biographies and essays, consulted with the playwright and continued to assimilate information throughout the rehearsal process, which has been ongoing since April. "This is a work in progress," Cohen said.
Cohen feels that The False Witness speaks not only to contemporary anti-Semitism, but also to despotism under any circumstances, citing Bosnia, Tibet and Rwanda. The False Witness, a new play by Robert Krakow in performance as a guest production at the Santa Fe Community Theatre, distinguishes itself among contemporary plays by challenging the intellect and provoking dialogue.
In a parallel vein to the recent book by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, [Hitler's] Willing Executioners, which examines collective guilt for the Holocaust, The False Witness explores the unstaunched, 2,000-year stream of anti-Semitism that emptied in this century at the mouth of Adolf Hitler.
Playwright Krakow maintains that he in no way intends to lessen the guilt placed on Hitler, tactician and murderer, but rather hopes to illuminate the dark wells of human hatred that were the historical source of Hitler's beliefs - and that continue to fuel ethnic persecution in the world today. Some audience members will disagree with Krakow's thesis, some with his methods, but no one who watches The False Witness will leave the theater without sharpened thoughts and the persistence of evil.
Krakow succeeds in his intellectual aim of exposing Hitler's antecedents, and the dramatic form of The False Witness serves the playwright's purpose cleanly and clearly.
With Martin Luther as his defense counsel, Hitler stands trial in purgatory at the criminal court of the high tribunal and is charged with crimes against humanity.
Fully acknowledging his actions, Hitler pleads innocent, claiming that he was merely fulfilling the wished of mankind. During the course of The False Witness, defense attorney Luther calls to the stand Shakespeare, Wagner, Pope Pius XII, St Paul, Henry Ford, and even a reluctant Franklin Delano Roosevelt in order to trace the march of anti-Semitism.
Krakow's research has been thorough, and he does a commendable job of placing historical dialogue in the mouths of dramatic characters to invoke the illusion of spontaneous speech. Cohen, as director, and the 11-member cast was in place by March.