After each performance of Dr. Kritzinger’s 12 O’Clock, I come out on stage (still in costume) and take audience questions. A question that came up during Sunday matinee, which I’ll paraphrase, was this:
Is this play about the Nazis during World War II, or is it a comment on atrocities going on today?
Short version of my reply: both.
The Wannsee Conference, the subject of Dr. Kritzinger, was a specific historical event. The actors on stage are playing the German officials who gathered on January 20th, 1942 to commit themselves and their government departments to Hitler’s genocide.
However, the Nazis invented neither genocide nor the habits of mind that fuel it. The dehumanization of Jews by the Nazis parallels the dehumanization of out groups by powerful in groups all over the world. In the U.S., we did it to the Native Americans whose land we seized and the Africans whom we kidnapped, forced into servitude, and subjected to an additional 150 years of brutal apartheid. The Turks did it to the Armenians. The Hutu did it to the Tutsis. The Khmer Rouge did it to the “New People”. Suharto did it to Indonesian communists. Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala did it to the Mayans. The Russians did it to Ukraine. The Japanese did it to China. In Gambia, today, the target is gay people (From Slate):
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh—a dictator who came to power in a 1994 coup—is not a friend of the gays. In the past, Jammeh has called gays “vermin” that “we will fight,” described homosexuality as “evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah,” and threatened to “cut off the head” of gays in Gambia. Last November, he signed a law that would impose a life sentence on anyone who has gay sex. His police force has been known to arrest Gambians suspected to be gay and threaten them with rape and torture.
It is no surprise, then, that Jammeh escalated his anti-gay rhetoric in a recent speech, making a vicious threat against every gay person who has dared to remain in Gambia. According to Vice News, Jammeh told a crowd:
If you do it [in the Gambia] I will slit your throat—if you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.
This is why I specified that Dr. Kritzinger was meant to be cast without regard to the gender or ethnicity of the actors. Audiences should hear the language of mass murder coming from the mouths of people who look like them. That might help us understand that genocide is not merely a crime that some people commit against others. It’s a crime that our species commits against itself.