TEL AVIV -- “Welcome to Hitler’s place,” says a grinning young man with trim beard. But this is not Obersalzberg, the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain residence above Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. It’s Rabbi Kook Street – near the beach in Tel Aviv.
The greeting is thus something of a provocation, one that Avi Gibson Bar-el tries to sweeten by offering visitors homemade apple strudel. They’re invited to help themselves to a tea or coffee as well, and then move into the living room to one of the few and highly sought-after seats. The Führer is about to take the stage.
In Israel, interest in Hitler has grown in recent years, particularly in theater circles. The winner of the first prize at the Acco Theater Festival in 2007 was a play called “Hitler, the Robot and the Knife,” in which a control-freak Jewish mom is portrayed as a female Führer.
In 2008 a one-man show called “Adolf” at Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater traced the dictator’s early years. And on now at the Gesher Theater is an adaptation of George Tabori’s farcical Mein Kampf featuring the young Hitler and Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.
But only actor, critic and director Amir Orian has attempted the role of the mass murderer (who was born in 1889) as a very, very old man – and he’s staged the production in his own apartment. Known as The Room Theater or Teatron Hacheder, it’s the only unsubsidized theater in Israel. The venue has survived for 26 years thanks to the money Orian makes running his theater school.
“The craziest idea ever..”
Anticipation builds in the small space; the audience wants to see how the famed thespian handles this. To create a distance between himself and his Hitler character, Orian, 67, who has long gray hair, opens the performance sitting in a manager’s chair behind a table, telling theater-goers how the whole idea came about.
In 1986, he tells the audience, playwright Tova Rogel suggested writing a play about a very old Hitler who, it turns out, didn’t die in Berlin in 1945. Instead he went underground. Using forged travel documents, he ends up in Israel, where his identity is finally uncovered and he is sentenced to death. By way of revenge, Nazis hiding out in various countries around the world instigate another World War -- and Hitler’s plan for a Final Solution becomes his legacy.
“I was shocked and thought it was the craziest idea I’d ever heard,” says Orian as he applies white make-up to his face and highlights his wrinkles with black. Fortunately, he leaves out Hitler’s trademark mustache. “But on the other hand,” he adds, donning a black coat and tie, “I thought ‘maybe there is something to it after all.’ That’s when we started working out ideas.” He clips on a wireless microphone and our trip to the dark side of the human soul begins.
During the performance, Hitler’s metallic voice keeps getting louder -- and more and more disagreeable -- as he recounts the difficult times he experienced as a young man in Vienna before the outbreak of World War I. He recalls the compulsively meticulous ways he planned his daily schedule, admits to having a sweet tooth, and slurps chocolate pudding.
Now and again, he throws out quotations from Mein Kampf (Hitler’s book was translated into Hebrew years ago) and also quotes various Israeli figures of note like the top Israeli general who called Palestinians “drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” And the white-haired Hitler says: "Jews are the chosen people or, if you will, a Master Race.”
Searching for Hitler’s soul
The high point of a monologue that seeps in under the skin is Hitler’s assertion that he is immortal. “I exist among you forever,” he barks. “And I will continue to do so, even if I ask you to kill me!” He then repeatedly taunts the audience, louder and louder, with “Kill me!” He is not killed off, he claims, because all wars and immoral deeds are blamed on his existence. The performance is now at an end, and Orian disappears into the private part of the apartment as the CD in the living room theater plays Israeli military music.
After the show, a young man asks Orian how he approached interpreting Hitler. “I sat and watched videos for hours, until I literally threw up. I tried to find -- but could not -- the inner person beneath the mask. There was just this big void.”
Orian says he hopes to be able to put this play on in Germany – with Hitler speaking Hebrew. He says his Hitler already made a short but historic appearance as a guest at the most important alternative Shoah event organized by artists for the past 14 years in Tel Aviv. It was the first time in Israel, he says, that a perpetrator – even if only a fictional one – has had his say along with the victims on a holocaust remembrance day.
Read the original story in German
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