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Reaching out…

Great! Things are happening… though not at lightning speed.

I’m in touch (e-mail and phone) with a Holocaust educational institution, and have e-mailed a query to two U.S. literary agents to see if they’re interested in representing Kristallnacht.

One Norwegian publisher has looked at Kristallnacht, and while they’ve just finished work on their WWII curricular books, they suggested I might use the same format on other historical eras – such as the Cold War. Not a bad idea; much of the work here has been in developing and perfecting the format, and it’s quite flexible and open enough to handle a wide range of subject matters.

I’ve translated the first episode of Kristallnacht to English to make it easier to get feedback from Jewish and educational institutions on the validity of the project. There are four episodes in all, followed by a debrief session.

 You can download a PDF here:

Kristallnacht: Episode A

This piece has so far had the working title “How not to care”. However, while the irony in that title expressed some of my feelings about how we often cope with reality (by not caring, by making up excuses that allow us not to take action), I want the piece to focus on how to care, and how to take positive action.

 Roughly, I see it go like this:

 1a. Playing it out. Participants play through a few situations with pre-defined characters. The situations are open-ended, but chosen to represent real-life choices that are heavily weighted – as most choices in real life tend to be. Each participant should have one situation where his/her character is in focus, making a choice.

1b. Reflection in character. After each situation, the participant controlling the focus character answers questions from the other participants while staying in character. Questions should focus on uncovering the motivations for acting/not acting in the situation. Participants should assume that there can be several interacting, or even opposing, motivations.

2. Finding options. After all situations have been played out, participants should brainstorm possible options the characters had for positive action. What could they have done to improve the situation?

3a. Self-reflection. Participants should now think through the situations and see which ones have a parallel in their own life. These should preferably be situations that can come up again. In what situations do they not act? Why? This might be done with questions and answers, like the above. Take turns.

3b. Finding options. After each Q&A session, participants brainstorm possible options for positive action.

Contacted a publisher

Not much writing the past month. Kristallnacht is as finished as it can get by now, and Judenrat needs more research.

I’ve sent Kristallnacht to a publisher in Norway, and have established contact with the Holocaust Teacher Resource Center, who seem interested in the project. (No reply yet from Yad Vashem or the Simon Wiesenthal Center).

From an online discussion on the project comes this very valid point:

“This kind of format tends to heavily reflect the biases of the author while at the same time implying that the chooser’s choice in some way matters. (…)  You’ve created a somewhat crude Holocaust simulation that invites people to imagine what it might be like to make unimaginable choices; I think the nature of your medium (…) may compromise that vision by framing those choices as discreet, “imaginable” and in some way fatalistic.”

I see the problem.

 The current design (which may very well undergo heavy changes) is a compromise based on the assumption that the participants will need a strongly structured form, since having a more open form will easily confuse people and disrupt the whole thing.

The choices presented, and the consequences of the choices, are so far primarily based on events from the Warsaw, Lodz and Lakhva ghettoes. It is impossible to say for certain what might have happened, had circumstances and/or choices been different. (It is possible to extrapolate and make educated guesses, based on Nazi policy regarding the ghettoes).

 I am not certain what to do about this. Judenrat can’t be described, at present, as a perfect historical simulation. The current concept is good for showing the basic problems the Judenräte faced, and highlighting the deliberate Nazi tactics of tightening the grip and removing Jewish rights and property in steps. I believe this is worthwhile as part of a historical curriculum. Some of the choices presented may be useful for debate in a course on ethics.

But the main problem stands: In selecting and presenting the choices and their consequences, I can never be a completely impartial judge. My interpretation and judgment of the events will show through – even if I think through and debate that interpretation and judgment thoroughly. The Judenräte are controversial to this day, and I must take care not to attempt to “solve” the controversy by giving simple answers.

We All Had Names (WAHN) is a project of education about the Shoah – the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.

When finished, WAHN will consist of three historical interaction pieces. In each piece, participants will verbally portray characters and events in a critical historical period. After each piece, participants discuss the characters and events, relating them to their own experiences, the greater historical picture, and current affairs.

 

Kristallnacht: Night of Broken Glass

The first piece, «Kristallnacht: Night of Broken Glass», is set in Germany and France in the winter of 1938. The piece focuses on the events leading up to and following the pogrom. Participants follow the fates of thousands of German Jews being sent to Poland; the assassination of a German diplomat; the Kristallnacht itself, where Jewish stores and synagogues were destroyed and looted; and the transport of German Jews to the concentration camp in Dachau.

Among the themes addressed in «Kristallnacht: Night of Broken Glass» are:

  • The Nazi political tactics of collective blame and anti-Jewish propaganda

  • The role of active and inactive civilians in allowing or helping the Kristallnacht take place

  • The role of individuals in major historical events

 

Judenrat: Jewish Councils of Eastern Europe

The second piece, «Judenrat: Jewish Councils of Eastern Europe», is currently being written. It is set in occupied Poland in the years 1939 to 1943. The piece focuses on the Judenräte, councils of Jews set down by the Nazi occupants to administrate the Jewish ghettoes. Participants follow and re-enact the decisions of the Judenräte. Discussions focus on the controversial role of the Judenräte, who were forced to follow the orders of the Nazi occupants while simultaneously attempting to save those who lived in the ghetto.

Among the themes addressed in «Judenrat: Jewish Councils of Eastern Europe» are:

  • The Nazi tactic of deliberate step-by-step removal of all Jewish rights and property

  • The impossible double role of the Judenräte

  • The values of individual lives versus the lives of thousands

 

The Silence

The third piece, «The Silence», is currently in planning. It will address one central theme: The reasons why so many individuals did not speak up or take any action to prevent the horrors of the Holocaust. The piece will require participants to ask themselves the question: In current, ongoing crises in the world, do we as individuals use the same reasons not to act? If so, how can we change that behavior and take positive action?

 

 

There are some choices I imagine participants in Judenrat might make, that I haven’t seen any historical precedent for. Two examples:

  •  The Nazis are kidnapping people in the streets and using them as forced labor. Jewish men are afraid to go out, and many stay inside for days. Some ghettoes react by setting up lists of workers and paying them a small sum to work – at least there’s order, and people get some money. However, an extreme group might decide, for example, to set up a police force to round up unpaid workers.
  • There’s a money shortage – expenses are twice the size of incomes. A group might decide to make sure everyone was treated equally, collect all the money and valuables in the ghetto (whatever was left), and make sure everyone got the exact same amount of food, medicines etc.

 I’m not very comfortable setting up fictional results for choices. However, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. Sometimes it’s easy to extrapolate – for example, asking the Nazis for anything will most likely fail. Sometimes, however, there’s no way to be sure.