"The Obligation is not only a theatrical masterpiece, but also a profound learning opportunity for high school students... I hope other educators get the chance to expose their students to this production. It is a powerful tool to keep the memories of the Holocaust alive in the minds of our youth.”
— Ismael Ruiz, Religious Studies Instructor at Cathedral Sacred Heart Preparatory School,
is the story of Schmuel Berkowicz, a Polish Jew from Bialystok. It’s a story of innocence and boyhood crushes — survival and liberation. It follows Schmuel’s life from his tween and teen years into young adulthood as the world around him descends into The Second World War and The Holocaust. Through Schmuel, the audience experiences the corrosive moral dilemmas that were the daily currency of The Shoah — a time when the unimaginable was the norm and survival depended on the right choice at the right time, guile and sheer luck.
* formerly known as The Obligation
“The Obligation is spectacular and so relevant for young
people, especially for high school students for whom full
rights of citizenship are just a few years - or months -
away…[Grunwald is] a masterful story-teller.”
— Michelle Haner, Theater Instructor
Synopsis and Characters:
The play is set in a college auditorium. Schmuel, an Auschwitz survivor and the play’s central character, is telling his story to the students (the theater audience). As his story unfolds, different people he encounters — before, during and after the war — emerge. Over the course of the 80 minute play, eight different characters come to life including: a German half-Jew who was a First Lieutenant in the Wehrmacht; a Groucho Marx-esque American-Jewish comedian-cum-social critic (The Chorus) who leavens the drama with acerbic commentary, probing the boundary between the absurd and the horrific; and an SS General, an unrepentant Nazi, who reminds us how quickly — and alarmingly — our contemporary world is erasing and, in some cases, sanctioning the dark history that produced him.
“… the only way to make sure that a Holocaust never happens again… to anyone… anywhere… is to work every day, in every country, in every language, to put an end to hatred. It’s not just stopping Nazis. We have to stop making a demon‚ a devil‚ out of ‘the other.’ Can you do that? Please, make sure. Never stop. Never... stop…”
— Schmuel Berkowicz, Auschwitz survivor, I Died in Auschwitz: A Remarkable Story of Survival
Conflicts & Moral Dilemmas:
THE “CHOICE-LESS CHOICE” FACING THE GHETTO JEW: This conflict played out within the confines of the Nazi-controlled ghettos — between the desperate ghetto Jews, the Jewish Council (The Judenrat) and the Jewish underground.
REPARATIONS (WIEDERGUTMACHUNG): Another dilemma played out in I Died in Auschwitz is the post-war controversy between survivors who refused to take reparations from Germany — calling it “blood money” — and others who applied for and received compensation because they were “owed by the Germans” — for the monstrous crimes that had been committed against them, their families and the Jewish people.
POST-WAR JEWISH SUICIDE: I Died in Auschwitz also engages the tragedy of post-war survivor suicide. Many survivors took their own lives — in some cases, many years after liberation — unable to live with their guilt at having survived while family, loved ones and so many millions of others perished. Some took their lives, unable to endure their own unremitting psychic pain — memories of what they themselves had lived through and witnessed.
THE AUSCHWITZ SURVIVOR: The conflict of the Auschwitz survivor — scarred on their forearms — branded as slaves with crudely etched numbers identifying them forever as living victims of Nazi terror, was uniquely tragic. When confronted with questions — perhaps many years after liberation — such as: “what is that?” or “what does that mean?” — often from well-meaning, although ignorant individuals, many Auschwitz survivors faced a conundrum: “how do I tell this stranger what this tattoo on my arm is?” “How do I tell them how and why I got it?” “How do I have a conversation with someone who has no idea what Auschwitz is?”
*I Died in Auschwitz includes the text and original characters from the short play, "The Mitzvah", co-authored and developed by Roger Grunwald and Annie McGreevey. The original production of "The Mitzvah" was directed by Ms. McGreevey.