A Holocaust of Mein Kampf
By Alfred de Grazia
Premiere (In Italian) at the Auditorium of Piazza LibertŠ, Bergamo, Italy, 23 December 2002, presented by the University Experimental Theatre.
A play in one act
Prologue: Dimly lit stage. A long-bearded aged Jew wearing a yarmulka sits at left stage at a small table with a small lamp and reads his lines. The half-open curtain opens fully then on the road scene below.
The old Jew: I ask you six questions about this play. You will have eight minutes in which to answer them.
First, Can this absurd drama be a powerful teacher of morality?
Second, The struggle against Nazism has taken this squad of American soldiers seventeen thousand kilometers from California to Africa, to Italy, through France and into Germany: will their march ever end?
Three: Does any evil, no matter how bad, justify the suppression of freedom of the press.
Four: How does the catastrophe of the Shoah stick in the minds of people when they never talk about it?
Five: Are soldiers entitled to loot?
Six: How do the contradictions of war sicken the mind?
The curtain on the left is drawn to cover the Jew, while on the right, where it has been drawn closed, it opens to full stage
Scene: Along a road in Germany, March 1945. Two soldiers fixing a jeep tire. Jeep is parked to the side, jacked up. Their packs and guns are alongside to lighten the load of the vehicle on the jack. There are several stuffed barracks bags as well as typical back-packs.
Personae: Soldier, Corporal, Lieutenant, Captain, all in USA Army camouflage combat fatigues, helmets on ground, save for Captain.
The Lieutenant is standing by, but the Captain strides in, and the Lieutenant perks up nervously and salutes.
Captain: So thatís the problem... A fine rear guard to the convoy you make... I halted it when I checked and saw you were gone... We canít wait any more... Thereís a tank battalion coming up on our tails...(He gestures to the rear.) And nothing but these swamps (he gestures right and left),so we canít pull off the road.
Lieutenant: Sorry, Captain. The spare is on a truck ahead. The tire is really bad and the rim bent, which makes it hard to get it back on.
Captain looks around, and spots the sacks. Is that gear all yours?
Captain: Its way too much. You must be carrying a ton...Whatís in it? More loot? He kicks a bag.
Lieutenant: No sir.
Captain: Whatís in this one? (a big heavy one)
Captain: Books? (Sarcastically)I give you credit for being intellectual, Lieutenant, but thatís too much. A hundred pounds too much, at least.
Lieutenant: Yessir, it is heavy.
Captain kicks the bag again.
Damn lot of books. Suddenly looks suspicious.
What kind of books?
Lieutenant: Non-fiction mostly, Captain.
Captain: Cut out the shit. Open it up.
Lieutenant opens it up and identical copies of a heavy volume in glossy binding fall out.
He looks abashed.
Captain: (angrily) Mein Kampf? Hitlerís Mein Kampf!
Lieutenant: Souvenirs, Captain.
Captain: Didnít I order you to burn them all yesterday?
Lieutenant: Wasnít time enough, Sir.
Captain: Not true
Lieutenant: Didnít want to waste gas.
Captain: Youíre wasting gas with me right now.
Why didnít you burn them all when I ordered you to do so? Huh? You had a chance to burn a thousand copies of Mein Kampf, a chance of a lifetime, and you disobeyed orders. It was the biggest contribution you could ever make to winning this war.
(He picks one up and begins to read from its cover.)"The Bürgermeister of Munich gives to you newlyweds this inspiring masterpiece of our Führer Adolph Hitler on the occasion of your sacred wedding, blank."
Lieutenant: Itís still a book.
Captain: You know what this book is all about, Lieutenant, youíre smart.
Lieutenant: Yes sir, I read it in English. But itís still a book.
Captain: Every piece of shit between covers becomes holy, right, Lieutenant? The Nazis have made a Bible out of it.(The two soldiers have stopped working and are now watching attentively)
Lieutenant: Captain, I know the book is bad, itís evil. But its Nazi to burn books. Itís what the Nazis did. Itís what we are fighting against.
Captain: You canít tell right from wrong, Lieutenant.
We run into a warehouse with ten thousand fancy volumes of one of the worldís most rotten books and you want to preserve them to educate our posterity.
To show them a bad book. How will they know? Theyíll look at the beautiful binding, thatís how theyíll know.
Lieutenant: By teaching them to read it in the right way.
Captain: The Germans had a long time to read it, and teach it, and see what theyíve learned.
Lieutenant: It wasnít the book alone, it was a lot of things that made for Nazism. They all add up, including the book. What would Marxism be without Das Kapital, or where would we be without the Constitution? Burning books is bad, worse than censoring it. Nothing between two covers is bad enough to burn, Captain, nossir.
Captain: What about deliberately disobeying the direct order of a superior officer? Is that bad enough for you, lieutenant? Two years on the rock pile.
Lieutenant: Iím ready to stand up for freedom of speech, Captain. All the way.
Captain: Well, youíll have lots of time to think it over after night falls, because I am going to make you permanent officer of the guard... (Turns to men) What are you men standing around for? Get that vehicle ready to go... You, Corporal, wait a minute, drag that sack over to the bog there and dump it in.
(Corporal disappears dragging bag.)
Captain: Is that the only bag, Lieutenant?
Lieutenant: No, sir, that one, too
Captain beckons to other soldier. Do the same with that one. (To the Lieutenant) That should lighten your load. Here, you can keep this copy. He tosses a copy from the bag onto the seat of the jeep.
Tell me Lieutenant, whatís on your conscience? Did your mother burn a dirty book of yours when you were a kid.
Lieutenant: Not true, Captain. But she did tell me to respect books.
Captain: Lieutenant, donít you see how youíre ready to abet any crime in order to stick to any hint of a principle, or belief? Life is not so simple, Lieutenant. Your obsession has held up our convoy, another crime. Overloading vehicles, another crime; carrying contraband, another; sympathizing with the enemy, another.
Lieutenant: No, I am certainly not an enemy sympathizer. I am supporting a principle that made our country great.
Captain: We can go on forever. The issue is really, Who is in command here -Ė you or I!
(The soldiers have meanwhile returned)
Lieutenant: Why are you always bugging me? (His face changes into a wild expression.)Look, see there (He points back to the far distance.) The fire from the books I burned is still burning!
They look where he points. Then they look at each other strangely and wondering.
Captain: Thereís no fire. I see no fire. (Addressing the others) Do you see a fire?
Corporal and Private: No, Sir.
Captain: Youíre crazy, your fire is burned out by now.
Lieutenant: (agitatedly) Thatís not my fire! Thatís the Jewsí fire. The Jews are burning! The Jews are burning in the fire!(He looks wildly about.)
Captain: (His expression softens. He understands what he is facing, and changes his manner completely from brusque to gentle and solicitous..) Calm down, Lieutenant. No matter what fire it is, weíll be there in time to put it out... I guarantee it. Forget what I said to you. Youíre a good officer. (He puts his arm around the Lieutenantís shoulder and edges him toward the jeep.) Come on, mount up.
Lieutenant: No. I canít do a thing to help.
Captain: Who knows? But weíll talk about it later...
About ready to go, corporal? Stay with us this time, Lieutenant. (He salutes and the Lieutenant returns the salute diffidently. He turns and disappears.)
Lieutenant: Letís get going. Weíre not far behind.
Theyíve been loading stuff and he is getting into right front seat of jeep. Private is driving. Lieutenant suddenly shudders and alerts himself, then asks suspiciously: Verne, what do you have in that sack of yours thatís so heavy?
Private: I donít know, Sir. Itís the Corporalís.
Corporal: Just some silverware I picked up back at that German schloss a ways, sir.
The lieutenant stiffens and almost explodes. He leaps out of car. Let me have that! He grabs the bag.
Corporal: Thatís mine, Lieutenant! What are you doing? Thatís combat pay.
Lieutenant: Thatís not yours, thatís loot, nothing but illegal loot. It belongs with the books, in the bog. He drags the sack offstage.
Corporal: (swearing) The beautiful silver! The cock-sucker, and to think I even liked him before, the prick!
Private: (frightened, as the Corporal seems to be climbing out of the jeep to chase after the Lieutenant. He clutches him.) Hold it down, Jack,.. Jack, hold it down.
Lieutenant: (Reappears, gets in the jeep, looking smugly satisfied.) OK, ok, letís go.
The Private zooms the motor. There is a roar starting up as the curtain falls. It does not diminish but in fact rises in volume and pitch until the curtain is well closed. The stage turns fiery red as the curtain begins to close.
(also available in Italian translation as played in Bergamo by the University Experimental Theatre, December 23,2002)