Vilna – a new play by Ira Fuchs
Vilne, Vilne, undzer heymshtot,
Vilna, vilna our hometown
Undzer benkshaft un bager.
Our longing and desire.
Akh, vi oft ruft dayn nomem
Ah, how often your name
fun mayn oyg aroys a trer!
Brings a tear to my eye!
“If G-D created monsters, he also created heroes.” Vilna – a new play by Ira Fuchs – is playing at the St. Clemens Theater, 423 West 46th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues) in Manhattan. This is a play about the horrors the Vilna Ghetto during WWII, and the Nazi murdering fields at Ponar where 80,000 Jews were shot.
While it could easily have become a tearjerker, under Ira Fuchs’ script, the able direction by Joseph Discher, and the superb cast, this play does the job in a subtle form. Most of the characters were once real people, with real names, with real lives. Not one of them expected what the Nazi occupation brought on. Here we see Motke Zeidel and Yudi Farber in all the glory of their humanity, their quest for the survival of themselves and the survival of those in the Ghetto. We also see them in their failures, we see them as they must decide who will be transported out, the weak, the old, those that couldn’t work… Motke and Yudi agonize over the ones that must be sent on their final destination, especially as Motke’s own father must leave on such a transport. Yet, while playing God, while deciding who will live and who will die, Yudi, Motke, his mother Dr Naomi Zeidel, Jacob Gens, Dr Rosa Szabad, managed to somehow keep the 30,000 Jews forced into the Ghetto from dying of starvation or disease. By implementing rigorously enforced health and hygienic procedures they prevented the outbreaks of cholera, typhus and other diseases so prevalent in other Ghettos and Concentration Camps throughout.
This play shows the humanity, the compassion, the struggle to keep as many people alive in light of the monstrosity of Nazis like Einsatzgruppe members Martin Weiss, Humbert Achamer-Pifrader and the young sadistic, former drama student Bruno Kittel, whose job was to liquidate the Ghetto and all those still in it, as the war was winding down.
Even the heroes, whether Yudi and Motke, or the poet and Partisan Leader Abba Kovner have their foibles… Whether it is the impetuosity of the young as they feel they must resist in battle, whether it is the safeguarding the lives and health of as many people as possible, when doing so means condemning others to a horrendous death under the aegis of the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators, this play presents the horrors and the triumphs of the unconquerable spirit of the Jews under the Nazi boot.
Vilna, review by Chaim Szmidt
New York Jewish Guide