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Ghetto Blast


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Justin Hayford's review of Ghetto (November 12) reveals both his ignorance of Israeli culture and of the Holocaust.

He seemed to have culled from an entire play about the Vilna ghetto just one point: that Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol should be commended for his "disquieting honesty" in pointing out the "human contradiction" in all of us. Because the character of the Nazi Kittel, who is both a murderer and an art aficionado, is moved to tears by a beautiful song, Hayford writes, "Kittel may have done monstrous things, but he was human--after all, intolerance, brutality, and genocide are the rules, not the exceptions, in history. For Ghetto to succeed we must be charmed and seduced by Kittel; we must see ourselves in him. Only then will we understand that Nazism breeds inside people like us."

While I think it's a valid point that each of us has the potential to be evil, I think that Sobol showed this dichotomy in Kittel to underscore how a man so moved by art was immune to human suffering. After all, it is not art alone that separates us from animals but compassion and empathy. I also wondered why Hayford barely mentions what is really the central theme of the play: the fact that there was a theater in the Vilna ghetto. Sobol himself, who addressed the audience after one of the shows, pointed out how remarkable it was that there was a theater in the ghetto and how it attests to an indomitable spirit.

Beyond that, I feel that Hayford has no understanding of the Israeli cultural milieu that produced a playwright like Sobol. Born in Palestine before the founding of the state of Israel, Sobol is among a generation who came of age in the 1940s and 50s and who are typified by their questioning of the one-sided ideology passed down by the founders of the state. While Hayford does not have to be an expert on Israeli literature to review this play--after all, he is an American reviewing a play performed in America, no matter the origin of the playwright--he doesn't garner any respect as a critic when he presumes to understand the playwright's intentions without having any understanding of the playwright's culture.

Finally, I don't think Hayford sufficiently understands what it meant to be living in the ghetto in Lithuania during Nazi occupation based on statements like this: "For a time it seems that being a Jew in Vilna entails walking slowly, stooping slightly, and cringing."

This was the Vilna ghetto--not summer stage! The mere fact that the Jews, under such horrible conditions, were able to stage a theater is resistance in and of itself. That they were a "pitiable mob" is indeed true. That's what happens when you're uprooted, enslaved, and could at any moment be taken out to the forest and murdered.

Abigail Pickus

Wicker Park

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