To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day last weekend, Brother Wolf Produductions performed A Lesson From Auschwitz at Tara Theatre. Based on real events, the play tells the story of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Assembling his SS personnel for a secret meeting in 1941, he explains his plans for “the final solution” – the use of Zyklon B, a poisonous gas on all the Jewish prisoners sent there.
Awaiting the audience as they take to their seats is Michael Shon as Abraham Könisberg, a Jewish prisoner forced to participate in Höss’ demonstration. Looking down on the ground for much of the time, his expressionless face wordlessly conveys his predicament. James Hyland, who plays Höss (as well as wrote and directed this hour-long play) is as restless as Shon is still, prowling around the stage space like a caged cat marking its territory.
Hyland interacts with the audience with varying degrees of connection – probing and scrutinizing their reactions as he spells out in detail how he will implement the Führer’s wishes. The audience’s response, however, is related closely with Shon’s. As Hyland interacts with him and administers corporal duress, it’s impossible not to wince at his treatment. As a representative of the Jewish community and all that are deemed ‘undesirable’, his maltreatment brings into focus how many untold men and women would be subjected to the same circumstances.
The play’s denouement, which reveals the former importance of Könisberg in the outside world, is unexpected, exemplifying how irrational and arbitary the Third Reich’s selection of ‘enemies’ were. Years of previous loyal service play no part in the ‘pruning’ of national identity.
Both actors pull off their respective roles with aplomb, with Shon’s performance subtly taking centre stage towards the end.
Much like Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre, the importance of humanity in A Lesson From Auschwitz is emphasised by the negation of it. The play, understandably, can’t be said to be ‘enjoyable’, but it is well-made and does get its point across convincingly.
© Michael Davis 2018
A Lesson From Auschwitz ran at Tara Theatre on 27th January. Proceeds were donated to charity.