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Anda - not on testimony alone

Anda – not on evidence alone

In his new and complex play Hillel Mittelpunkt manages to touch on the very essence of the state.

I am not a historian and cannot examine the historical accuracy of Anda, Hillel Mittelpunkt’s new play, with the sparse tools of my personal consciousness regarding those days. After watching the play at the Beit Lessin Theatre I am sure that it is not a play about the Eichmann trial, or the Holocaust, and as Mittelpunkt himself says in an interview on this website, it is not a documentary either. Despite the fact that it is not a documentary I am sure that Mittelpunkt examined, observed, and scrutinized the play’s subject matter (even though the playbill does not mention the documentary material upon which he based the play).

But I do not believe that it is historical accuracy that determines the play’s values but the fact that is raises the problematics which are discussed through the theatre. Therefore my discussion will focus on these issues from the perspective of the theatrical endeavor alone, and awareness of the right of the playwright to create a reality which is not always an accurate reflection of the reality it describes. From this point of view alone Hillel Mittelpunkt’s Anda is a good and important work of art, and its quality is not flawed even if it gives rise to questions and doubts.

Ostensibly, Anda is a play that describes the legal and political steps on the way to the Eichmann trial, and ends with a recording of Gideon Hausner’s famous opening address. The plot overshadows the opening speech - at least regarding the fact that Hausner served as a mouth for the millions of people who perished - because it deals with the invalidation of the testimonies, particularly that of Anda, about what happened in Barrack 10 in Auschwitz, the horrific “medical” experiment barrack for women - because some of the testimonies, and mainly those coming from members of the Herut party, and even Mapam and Achdut Ha’avoda, did not fall in line with Mapai – or more accurately, the political fears of Ben-Gurion.

Mittelpunkt describes this story through a series of imaginary characters (one of the facts that the crammed playbill fails to mention, in the same way it does not relate to the disqualification of testimonies). These characters represent the injured/justified side in the plot’s dramatic equation: Anda, who seeks to testify, Nochi, the young lawyer, who came to Israel with Aliyat Hanoar and integrated into the new Israeliness, his father who survived the Holocaust and to some degree, his girlfriend Alona. On the other hand, Mittelpunkt positions the “bad” side in his plot that relates mainly to Ben-Gurion, who fears repitition of the trauma of demonstrations against the German reparations, and the Kastner trial and his murder; to some degree it also includes Golda Meir who wants to link the Arab world to the Nazis, and certainly Hausner, who surrenders to their authority. None of the three, although they are major “historical-reality” factors in the plot, appear on stage, but are represented through their emissaries – a Politruk robot, named Pecker, who dictates, threatens, and blackmails, as the representative of the regime and the party, and the backboneless head of department in the General Prosecution, named Shneior (who clearly represents the figure of the then state prosecutor, Gavriel Bach). To some extent we can also add Mike, Alona’s father, as a representative of the Israeli nouveau riche, who make their way in the world, and are openly connected to the past by the establishment and perhaps, also by concealed ties to the Mossad.

Nochi, the young lawyer, is the heart of the plot which moves around his professional battle with Pecker, and his coping with himself and his father on the question of his identity as a child of the Holocaust, which he tried to erase and hide. His encounter with Anda links these two struggles, making Nochi into a tragic hero, in the best classic dramatic tradition. MIttlepunkt’s exceptional achievement in this play is mainly his portrayal of Nochi’s character, which is both personal and representational of the question of national identity here as “children of the Holocaust” who were forced to rise from the tunnels and learn about their history, talk about it, confront it, and know that truth, integrity, and human respect come at a heavy price.

Mittlepunkt’s other achievement can be found in his shaping of Anda’s character, as a woman who went through the atrocities of the inferno, a woman whose body was ripped apart and sterilized, but one who with her spiritual strength managed to survive, make for herself a life of hope, and for whom the capture of the Nazi criminal opens a door through which she can stand up and face the world and tell everyone what happened there, what she and other women, who did not survive, went through. This would have been sufficient to position Anda as a strong theatrical character, but Mittlepunkt empowered her even more when he decided to let her make her fateful decision regarding her testimony.

On the other hand, despite his achievements, and his most significant one is in writing accurate dialogues and creating a complex dramatic structure, and without weakening my deep appreciation of the play, I believe that his decision to keep Ben-Gurion and Hausner off stage, and conceal the identity of Gavriel Bach, constitute a dramaturgical weakness. I am, of course, well aware of the various “dangers” such a step would have, had he done so. But it would not have been the first time, and I have no doubt that the play was weakened by making do with substitutes. This is true largely with regard to Pecker’s character, the “partner in crime”, particularly in view of the fact that his character remains a one-dimensional political gangster (perhaps the only “Ben-Gurion boy” in the history of Mapai who also acted on behalf of Golda Mer). This type of development would have deepened Mittlepunkt’s indictment, and would have made adding the character of Mike to the plot redundant, as it does not add anything to the main plot or even to the sub-plot (Nochi and Alona’s relationship).

Another question relates to the representation of Ben-Gurion’s involvement in shaping the legal aspects of the trial, and the extent of its directness as depicted in the play, or did his representative act as representatives act, i.e., according to his own understanding. Moreover, I also wonder that Ben-Gurion or his subordinates did not disqualify or did not try to disqualify the participation of Judge Benjamin Halevi, since several years earlier he had resolutely convicted Yisrael Kastner, and to a great extent had encouraged the step that brought about his murder. I wonder because the subject of Kastner is a basic point of departure for everything that takes place in Anda. The portrayal of the omniscient character of Pecker, who pulls out secret documents whenever needed, would have been no less dramatic and intriguing than the effort described in the play to link the Mufti of Jerusalem to the Eichmann trial even when evidence is lacking.

…As I declared at the beginning of this article, I am not a historian, but even for someone who was not older than 17 when Ben-Gurion announced that Eichmann was captured and was being brought to trial in Israel, the wide-ranging significance of the political message was clear to me. I understood that the State of Israel, the one defined in the play as “the Ben-Gurion state”, sought to fulfill its status as the absolute representative of the Jewish People, and appropriate the custody over the memory of the Holocaust and its victims.

But the years that have passed since then have taught me that the capture of Eichmann, the grand showcase trial, and his execution, were larger than the political objective. Even while the testimonies were being heard, the trial turned into a watershed for Israeli and worldwide awareness of the Holocaust and its victims, forcing them to open their hearts and carry on a dialogue with family members, society, and mainly with themselves about what had happened.

Since 1961-62 the topic has never been off the agenda, due to the discovery of new facts, hidden documents, new testimonies, and an incessant dealing through cultural means – literature, poetry, the plastic arts, music, cinema, and the theatre. Hillel Mittelpunkt’s moving play joins all these, albeit, not like one more play about the Holocaust, but by coping with it within Israeli society, and with the numerous existential questions that have come up, from then until now. From this point of view I hope that paying special attention to Anda will raise a few warning signals about t the political altars amongst us, which are looming on all sides.

From an article by Zvi Goren, published in Habama, October 22, 2008.

 

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