'Holocaust cabaret' about Demjanjuk case plays Heidelberg
A Canadian-Jewish playwright is bringing his version of former Sobibor death camp guard John Demjanjuk’s story to the stage, even as a war crimes trial against the 89-year-old contiunes in Munich.
The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk stands accused of helping to gas 27,900 people at the Nazi camp where he was a guard. He has been in custody in the Bavarian capital since May 2009 after being deported from his home in the Cleveland, Ohio.
He is now the topic of writer Jonathan Garfinkel’s play, Die Demjanjuk Prozesse, or “The Demjanjuk Trials,” set to begin on March 31 in Heidelberg.
The drama, which is arranged as a “Holocaust cabaret,” is the 36-year-old author’s attempt to show the human side of Demjanjuk, who has been unyieldingly taciturn during the trial.
He is portrayed as a family man and a hobby gardener who cannot understand the crime of which he is accused.
“I don’t know the real Demjanjuk, but I want to try to humanise him and give him back a few human details,” Garfinkel said. “I’m trying to make him an average American citizen who wants to live the American dream.”
But the protagonist will also be shown as he has actually appeared to the public in the courtroom – seated in a wheel chair, passive and silent. This image inspired Garfinkel to write the play, he said.
“It really strikes me to see how Demjanjuk is becoming a symbol,” he said. “It seems like it has nothing to do with him, but instead Germany’s legal reconciliation with its past.”
As a Jew, Garfinkel said he was brought up among many stories of the Holocaust, and became interested in the stories of the perpetrators.
In 2005 he published an earlier version of the play, “The Trials of John Demjanjuk: A Holocaust Cabaret,” about Demjanjuk’s 1987 Israeli trial, in which he was sentenced to death for the sadistic crimes as a guard known as “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka camp. He was later exonerated in 1993.
The ruthless character Ivan will also be incorporated in the latest play as Demjanjuk’s alter ego, however.
“I don’t think Demjanjuk is an innocent man, but I believe he has already paid for what he did,” Garfinkel said.
The play runs until the end of May.