A play no theater will play
`WITHOUT any undue humility, I'm saying this [play] is the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches at the heart of the greatest abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust, the [fact] being ... that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.'' So speaks British playwright Jim Allen.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
``It is a complete travesty of the facts,'' says Oxford historian Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill's official biographer and widely recognized specialist on the Holocaust.
At issue is Mr. Allen's latest work, ``Perdition,'' which this month was poised for its premi`ere at London's most illustrious fringe theater, the Royal Court. Just 24 hours before opening to a sold-out house, ``Perdition'' was canceled. This is the first time, in the history of what is considered the city's most daring playhouse, that a production has ever been so summarily pulled. The move has made ``Perdition'' the most talked-about yet-to-be-staged play in the history of modern British theater.
The play first came to public attention in an article in Britain's Guardian newspaper a week prior to the show's opening. According to the Guardian, the script explicitly stated that Hungarian Zionists in 1944 helped the Nazis to ship 800,000 fellow Jews to their deaths at Auschwitz. The play alleges that an arrangement was entered into by a group of Zionists in the hope that they, in return, would be allowed to flee to safety in nearby neutral Switzerland; the implication is that these Zionist leaders felt that saving those who would help form a Jewish state in Palestine was far more important than saving the lives of their non-Zionist brethern.
But ``Perdition'' goes even further.
It alleges that Zionist leaders believed ``the spilling of Jewish blood'' at the hands of the Nazis was necessary. The reasoning behind this was to provide moral grounds on which to later convince the world that a Jewish state in Palestine was justified. As one line in the play puts it: ``Israel was founded on the pillars of Western guilt and American dollars.'' Or, more graphically still: ``Israel was coined in the blood of Hungarian Jewry.''
``Perdition'' takes the form of a fictional trial set in England immediately after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. While much is changed, the play is based on an controversial libel case that was heard in Jerusalem in 1955 - the so-called ``Kastner case,'' which led to the breakup of a coalition government that year. A prominent Israeli Labor politician, Rudolf Kastner, was suing an extreme right-winger, Malkiel Greenwald, for statements he had published claiming that Dr. Kastner, the head of the Jewish Rescue Committee in Budapest in 1944, had struck a deal with Adolf Eichmann, the notorious mastermind of Nazi Germany's attempt to exterminate the Jews. Rather than raising an alert, Mr. Greenwald alleged, Kastner kept quiet about the impending fate of hundreds of thousands of his fellow Hungarian Jews, thus ensuring that a group of some 1,600 Zionists, whom Allen refers to in his play, could escape via the Bergen-Belstsen concentration camp to Switzerland.
The trial - in which the president of the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Kastner ``had dealt with the devil'' - ended with Greenwald being acquitted on 2 out of 3 of the libel charges. For the third charge he was fined a trifling sum, further humiliating Kastner and seeming to lend more credence to the allegations.