Our knowledge on Nazi atrocities is quite voluminous but very little is known about the German resistance which took the lives of approximately 77,000 people. The loosely bound resistance could not muster an organized strength to pose any serious threat to the Third Reich, but it did carry out about 30 assassination attempts on Hitler.
Notable among these conspirators was a Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law ,a lawyer by the name of Hans von Dohnányi.Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a protestant theologist who rose against the Church’s unequivocal support to the state and sought to distance religious affairs from state influence.While he was opposed to Hitler’s philosophy right from the beginning, it was due to his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnányi, that he got more actively involved in the resistance. As he moved away from pacifist ideologies of the church, he believed that a true follower of Christianity also needed to act on it. “..the church must “not only bind up the wounds of those who have fallen beneath the wheel” of the state “but at times halt the wheel itself.” – (sic) from his essay “The Church and the Jewish Question”.It was this thought which helped him to cross the critical divide from being a mute spectator of evil to actively stopping evil and somewhat assuage his moral dilemma .
Equally and if not more courageous, is the story of Hans von Dohnányi – the man responsible for rescuing almost 14 Jews and also engineering several assassination attempts.Hans and Dietrich were men who showed great moral integrity and exemplary courage at one of history’s most difficult times.Both of them were eventually caught, tried by the SS courts and condemned.They were executed by the painful method of being hanged using a piano wire.
The story of Hans,Dietrich and others at the German resistance are stories that need to be told. To condense such a vast history,context,characters into the confines of a time-bound theater play seems daunting,but this is exactly what the play “Emil’s Enemies” sets out to do.A famous play by American playwright,Professor Douglas Huff,it portrays the last assassination attempt on Hitler (code named Emil) by Hans and Dietrich. The play is a result of 10 years of diligent research by Prof. Huff where he has endevoured to bring out the essence. Directed by the renowned theater personality Prof. Vijay Padaki and presented by Bangalore Little Theater, I got a chance to watch the play at Ranga Shankara,Bangalore yesterday.
It is a 95 minutes play without interval and comprises of 12 scenes.Scenes of Dietrich writing his memoirs and readying for his execution alternate with events that lead up to the capture of the conspirators. The acting by the cast was quite commendable.Their capacity to enact and bring to life such complex characters,shows the enormous effort that’s been put in.With all the pre-reading that I had done on the subject, I was expecting to see Dietrich as the central character, and hence was pleasantly surprised to see both Hans and Dietrich being accorded equal importance. The play also brings forth a more human aspect of the characters, wherein each one faces a dilemma of some sort or the other, but in the end abides by their inner conscience. For such a somber topic, the humor in the dialog provide a welcome distraction. I did however feel, that audiences who did not read up on the history, might have found it a bit difficult to follow and keep track between the swiftly alternating scenes. The lines of some of the characters were delivered a tad bit too fast and it’s possible to miss out on some crucial conversations. I would definitely advice audiences to pre-read on the history before watching the play.
If you haven’t watched it yet, here’s a chance for you to catch up on the play in Bengaluru on April 21,April 29-May 1 and May6-May8.
I end with this hymn that was written by Dietrich Bonheoffer in the concentration camp, shortly before his death.
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.
Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, You taught us to prepare.
And when this cup You give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.
Yet when again in this same world You give us
The joy we had, the brightness of Your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be Yours alone
Disclaimer : I was invited by BLT to watch the play