Just sign on the line

A riveting psychological drama in English premieres in Jerusalem.

A scene from 'The Statement,' a new play in English at The Khan Theater (photo credit: ROBIN COHEN)
A scene from 'The Statement,' a new play in English at The Khan Theater
(photo credit: ROBIN COHEN)
God forbid any of us should ever be placed in such a situation.
The Statement, a new play in English at The Khan Theater, chillingly portrays a nightmare scenario. In the bleakest and most desperate hour of World War II, the Nazis bring together nine prominent Jews into one room and offer them a deal they can’t refuse.
Or can they? Facing certain death – either instantly by a bullet in the brain or by drawn-out tortures in Auschwitz – these Jews, all eminent in their fields, are suddenly given a choice. The Nazis offer them safe transport immediately to Switzerland.
All that these Jewish role models and influencers have to do to exit the hopeless hell of the Holocaust and enter the paradise of a neutral nation is to agree unanimously to endorse and sign a statement crafted by the Germans extolling Nazi ideology and abasing the Jews and Judaism.
No one is eager to sign their names to the disturbing and distasteful text, and these Jews whose lives are on the line are under no illusions regarding the cruel and duplicitous behavior of their tormentors.
They realize that even if they sign the statement, the Nazis might kill them anyway, instead of honoring the agreement to free them. But it is the only chance they have to live.
The Nazis give the Jews a mere 60 minutes in which to reach their decision.
And in that lifetime squeezed into a single hour, the audience is held captive too, mesmerized by the riveting and impassioned pleas and arguments.
Even in the valley of the shadow of death, put nine Jews together and you have 10 opinions. Eight of the prisoners are Europeans; the ninth Jew is a dashing young Palestinian Jew captured by the Nazis after parachuting into Europe to help rescue Jews. Eight are prepared to sign. Why not? Of what real value to the Nazi propaganda effort is the piece of paper? Anyone who sees the document will understand that it was signed under duress, won’t they? But there is a sole holdout who refuses to sign. Can the others persuade him to save their lives? THE KEY to the success of the Ben Bard Players’ production of The Statement is that it brings these characters to life: a decorated Jewish-German hero from World War I who struggles to hold on to his love for and trust in his country; a Jewish communist intellectual who has jettisoned all allegiance to religion and nationality; a Nobel-Prize nominated mathematician who applies his background to the problem; a Jewish prizefighter whose hands have been crushed by the Nazis for his moment of defiance; a poet whose mind has been broken by what he has suffered and lost; and a young man from Palestine who is infused with the experience of his robust life in the Promised Land as it emerges into nationhood.
Uniting them all, in a way, is the sole religious Jew of the group to whom they appeal as they struggle to reach a decision and find meaning in it all.
Going far beyond polemics, the discussions and interactions that intensify as the moments tick by unearth fascinating and surprising insights into the souls and backgrounds of the protagonists, who turn out not always to be as they seem. There can be character growth and development even in a single hour of life – and even spots of dark humor.
The minimalistic scenery and the stark Khan small theater itself help to focus the playgoers on the crucible in which these souls are tested. And there are outstanding individual performances, all contributing to a powerful and gratifying experience for the audience of the sold-out opening-night performance that this reviewer attended.

The Statement
was written by Claude Salama, who commented about his play, “This is my testimony of love for the Jewish people – and also for humanity, this strange being of which the Jew is witness.”
The play was translated from the original French to English, brought to the stage and directed by Bryan Barak Bard.
The Statement is scheduled to run until May 1. Info and tickets: (02) 630-6300 or www.khan.co.il.