Home Schooling, A Short Play by Ron Riekki

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


Audio not available for this piece.

CAST OF CHARACTERS:
KRAUS
SURVIVOR
GIRL

TIME: 2005.

PLACE: Prague.

Scene 1

(Silence, then—Lights up to reveal KRAUS, a table nearby. For KRAUS, the room is hot, wiping his brow occasionally.)

KRAUS
There are no facts. There are facts, but this is not about facts. This is one of the most decisive events of history. All of history. It is not about the Jews. It is about people . . . Don’t be a student. Be an ally . . . OK. And this, this is a synagogue. Don’t think of this as a classroom. This is about restitution. This is a very huge agenda. This is contemporary. This is history. There are two types of people. My parents were sent to Auschwitz, separated. Parents were sent to concentration camps, labor camps, for free labor. Parents were sent to concentration camps. Both survived. And my mother never spoke about it. People who are absolutely silent. Speaking raises it from memory. It is not accepting. It is their way to handle it. Not satisfactory. Just cannot. Just cannot . . . handle it. Psychology. Inmates. Inmates. I don’t know some names of the camps. Because. So. One type is silent. You see, Steven Spielberg’s recording all memories of these in concentration camps and not only concentration camps. Those in hiding, etcetera. They didn’t speak. There you have a very different type of experience. My father, before the war, was a Czech news agency reporter, successful. And for radio. The Nazi party dismantled Czechoslovakia and he was covering their activities, their . . . he was publishing . . . reports, on them. The Parliament took up against him. He was several times arrested. In 1941, he was very elegantly gotten rid of. He was taken. Him. Then my mother. Then my father’s family. My family. Until 1944, at Terezín. The Red Cross was there, which was a huge propaganda thing. As if the ghetto was a model. Which is not true. The Red Cross — it was in a movie even. And Auschwitz. My father, as I said, was sent to Auschwitz. And they were sending people to death marches, but my father escaped. To Poland. Late March, ’45. And he was able to get some room there from a friend and he wrote every detail. And he came to Prague in ’45, the first ever report on the Holocaust. In Czechoslovakia. It’s not in English. This is the second type. Two types. The first is silent. And the second one is just the opposite. A memento. To warn the world that something — to warn the world that something would never happen again. Elie Wiesel, Pinmo Levi — just facts. If you read it, it’s so expressive. Even he was not able to transmit the experience. He committed suicide. You can’t express, you can’t transmit the experience. You can’t. But at least these people are trying. But it’s not about the Holocaust. It’s not about the Jews. It’s about people. This could have happened to anybody. This is about the history of human kind . . . Why is the Holocaust so unique? Why are you so obsessed with it? There are specific features of this event. What is the difference between genocide and a holocaust? The Holocaust. What is the difference between ethnic cleansing, in Yugoslavia? What is the difference?

(Silence)

Legislation! . . . It was legislation. Marxist. Definition: “Law is defined by the ruling class, the will of the ruling class.” I’d change that. This is false. I’d change that to the elites. Defined by the elites of the society, and so the elites adapted legislation, not only anti-Semitic legislation, but genocidal legislation. What is the first? . . . Nuremberg. Nuremberg Laws. The so-called Nuremberg Laws. They had to define. They had to select the people out of the society, to say these people are our enemies. You see, Jews were always forming a society, on the outskirts, but they were not difficult to target. But there there was much more integration. They appeared as German and this was a problem. They looked German. Maybe they were not celebrating Christmas, but they were German and so they needed to be targeted, to be . . . How many races are there today? . . . Four. White, black, red, yellow. So — where are the Jews? Are they a race? . . . No. But the Aryans, the Nazis, they had to pinpoint somebody — the Jews. And . . . it progressed . . . Who is a Jew?

(Silence)

Nuremberg Laws. A Jew is somebody with at least one Jewish relative, and is listed in the Jewish community. According to the Nuremberg Laws. The next step’s the deprivation of civic liberties, of a citizen. Not only basic civic rights, but broader laws. Based on legislation. Then, a third step. They were denied their liberty. They were imprisoned. Sent to concentration camps . . . Locks on everything, all desk drawers . . . The Holocaust is not only a mass murder, it is also a mass loot. This is very, very, very important. Everything was confiscated. This is unique. You can’t find it. These people lost everything. From small chains to factories. And to get it back, you have to prove it was yours, that the painting was hanging in your living room. How do you prove this? You cannot prove this. It’s gone. Where is it? . . . And look at the Holocaust women and children. How were they treated? Women and children were the first to get gassed. Why?

(Silence)

Women and children are the future . . . A big difference from slavery. A big difference. The killing of women and children. All. All. All.

SURVIVOR

(Lights reveal SURVIVOR, eighty years old with a thick accent and somewhat broken English, fond of the occasional whisper, sometimes shifts mid-thought and has trouble coming up with the right word, pausing then quickly coming up with the right word. She wears glasses, very simple clothing — e.g. a cheap white shirt — and jewelry, with a watch on each wrist and two necklaces. The necklaces and watches don’t match.)

Austria. The streets were full of people that were happy that Hitler came there, because they were poor people and because of the economic situation. You know Hitler was here in Austria, so there are deep roots there. When they came, it was my first great disappointment that I had schoolmates that would not talk to me. I wasn’t interesting to them. We moved as quickly as possible in 1936. We had a beautiful garden and they drink the wine there where we moved. We ran away. The SS officers were awful. I had to undress myself. To show my shoes. It was awful. The Nazis, of course. My dad built our house. He was an engineer. My grandmother came there, and refugees. As quickly as it was possible and when something was broken so the little boy started to tremble, because of poverty. And this is my, my point of view, which is different from the official — you see, I saw a piece of paper, a document, of a speech — and history is history —and this Munich Agreement was awful for us, this appeasement. We were not asked. My family had to leave within four days, from Carlsberg to Prague. Many people suffered a lot from the Germans. But revenge is always bad. Always. I believe. My father, he had to go as a soldier, and all this, boats, you know. I studied history and all these boats, they had ninety percent.

KRAUS
Votes.

SURVIVOR
Boats.

KRAUS
Votes.

SURVIVOR
Votes. Ninety percent. How ninety percent? They make it a fairy tale now. And you hear lectures not agreeable to Nazis. There’s a film and then a discussion. There’s the film and then a discussion. Where’s the discussion? They say, “Have wine, snacks, then you can discuss.” Where is the discussion? In fifty, two hundred years, it’ll be different maybe. I would like to tell you, my — you see, I had three times to get in touch with the Gestapo, with the SS. You see, my life is common to the survivors in that I didn’t go to Auschwitz. Heinrich came here. He was an awful man and really hated Jews. Heinrich Himmler. All the Jews have to leave this country. Those rich enough had the chance. But from our country only three hundred thousand, two, three; I don’t know how many. Only a few could leave, a few thousand, some, they — anyhow, according to the Nuremberg Laws the Jews had to live the ways they had to live. Be home at eight o’clock and we lost property and money and in the bank we couldn’t use it. My daddy had no wash anymore. I tried. I worked voluntarily. I wanted to study medicine in a Jewish hospital. But Heinrich — we had to do exactly what the SS wanted. Also all synagogues were closed and used as storerooms. Thousands, but only two hundred seventy-six came back. First time. Can you imagine? All the rest were exterminated. Imagine. We tried to work, so I stopped working at the hospital and started working with textiles, sorting at the Spanish synagogue. About eighty thousand people went to Terezín and other camps. Sixty thousand went to the east. Three thousand ninety-seven came back. We didn’t know that they were gas chambers. We had no idea. We thought like epidemic and like that. We didn’t know. We moved where every family lived in one flat . . . I had to sort textiles and it made me awfully sad —

(SURVIVOR’s voice changes, sounding like a little girl. Throughout SURVIVOR’s monologues, whenever she visualizes herself as a girl, she speaks in a little girl’s voice, high and loud, and speaks as if no one else is in the room with her. When she speaks in the present or is reflecting back as a woman in the year 2005 she speaks as an eighty-year-old, soft and normal, and acknowledges that others are in the room. The shift is noticeable, yet KRAUS does not make any response to these shifts.)

as they were dolls, teddy bears, and for babies, and I cried and they said, “Oh, she’s a sensitive girl.” “Oh, but she’s happy.” They didn’t know. I moved to admin, typing, and they told me about her little boy and it sounded like a spoiled baby. And she was telling me she was going to faint and she said, “Call my little boy.” And she said, “Call him. He’s a lawyer.” So I called this spoiled little boy and I fell in love, because I liked this little boy who was twenty-eight. She called him “a little boy.”

(SURVIVOR’s voice shifts back to that of a woman. The actress who plays SURVIVOR should make subsequent shifts in vocal inflection. These shifts rarely occur mid-sentence. But can occasionally shift from one sentence to the next, but typically this occurs whenever a story is happening in her youth.)

He was with the resistance, you know. And SS on the street called me a Jewish schwein. Even today I don’t use this street. I hate it. I shouldn’t, but it was awful. We have the housekeeper typewriters and those sorts of things. Three Gestapo men came at eleven and didn’t find anything. They emptied the drawers though and behaved like animals and the dog was barking, you know, and he wanted to shoot him, this SS, so I fell to my knees and said, “Please don’t shoot him. He doesn’t belong to me. He belongs to the housekeeper.” So he did not shoot him. Everything in our flat then we gave to a professor of a university at Leipzig. Of course the dog had to stay with housekeeper. The third time they came I told my mom I wanted to marry John. I said I want to live with him. I was in love. My dad was awful against it, but my mommy knew I was in love. One day he had to go to the headquarters of the Gestapo and he didn’t come back. And this was the resistance. But we were not clear enough. The next day I had to go to the Gestapo headquarters in this house. I had to wait a long time. It made me nervous. A nice man was fitting inside, floodlights in my face. I told them fairy tales. You can’t just be silent. Not a single word was true. He said if you want to see him again, tell him the truth. His life was in your hands. I was in love. I was eighteen. I did not. But I was not tortured. I came back. It was a big organization, a big resistance movement. And so he came home of course. We went to the cemetery. That was the only place he could play with sand. The park, it was “Jews and dogs forbidden.” It was awful for us. We lost our names — numbers I-three-four-seven, I-three-four-eight. We went to Terezín. We got a slice of bread for one day. Of course I was hungry and wanted to eat it all up at once. But there was this woman who had been in prison and she taught us in the morning you have one-third of it, then a small piece for lunch and at night you have to have the biggest piece, otherwise you can’t sleep at night, your stomach growling and you get headache. So you wait. She taught — three hundred —

(Stares at ceiling)

Three hundred forty-seven. Three hundred forty-eight.

(Pause, lost in thought. Snaps out of it smoothly.)

I liked working at the hospital, because my grandmommy I thought might have die this way and I wanted to help so others won’t die that way. I took them in my arms and took them by the hand and other girls did the same. I couldn’t stay there a lot of times and —

(Remembers!)

Oh! I married under the chupa.

KRAUS
It’s a type of fabric hung over the couple.

SURVIVOR
We left the ghetto and we went to where there was very fertile soil and we grew strawberries and vegetables for the Commander. We were afraid of him. He always shouted at us. But his eyes were smiling. He’d yell, “Here is a chest for the SS and the SS is best!”

(This shift is significant, her most girlish voice of all —)

We had to learn to steal.
(Stands)

Here we had potatoes, here we had tomatoes, here we had —

(Motions to a spot, doesn’t finish sentence.)

And we had to weed like this!

(Demonstrates. Then sits, smiles, and laughs.)

One day, I — crazy girl — I had a small cabbage and saw a large one and I thought — I took it! And they came and they came rarely, but they came. I was so silly to take this big — We had to — What do you call it?

                (Stands at attention.)

KRAUS
Stand at attention.

SURVIVOR
What?

KRAUS
Stand at attention.

SURVIVOR
Stand at attention. And they came and they said, “What is this?” And I was beaten. He said from 4 to 6 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. I had to brush up these rugs . . . I was happy. There was a writing table and a dog that was always with him. It was a shepherd and they were taught if someone escapes to spring on the neck and I was so afraid and I was told if you look at him and don’t show him the back he will listen. So I talked to him. About what? My whole family. I talked and talked and one day he got up, gave me a sniff, a long sniff, and then he went back and it was — oh — I love dogs. So that was — this woman said you have to share everything. Once in ten days we got sugar, one spoonful. I liked sugar. I don’t anymore. I would be too fat. But then all of us gave our sugar and if someone was sick, or going off depressed, it really helps. Ten of us gave him all of our sugar. It really helps. There were four awful people with the Czech police, but the rest were really nice. You know what helped us?

(Pause.)

Poetry. We had to memorize them. I didn’t like it either. But it helped. Poetry. And music. The children’s opera. Culture helped us to hope again, to feel better, and that was a lot. There was a—what is this?

(Motions to show the word she’s trying to say, keeps motioning through the next three sentences.)

I loved this. To do this. And then you have the times.

KRAUS
A phonograph?

SURVIVOR
No. Like this? You go — and then you hear.

KRAUS
A jack-in-the-box?

SURVIVOR
This.

GIRL
A music box.

(Lights reveal GIRL)

SURVIVOR
Yes, music box. I loved it. Oh, it was beautiful. It was like a fairy tale. I should never forget . . . And do read. Reading is something that stays in your brains. I always tell my — I always say, “Do read. It will help you” . . . They told me nobody lived. Not my husband. Not my mother. Nobody. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t. It was the worst moment of my life. I had to find something to live. I saw a woman who speaks German and I said, “Come up and help me to go to Prague” . . .

(SURVIVOR, lost in thought.)

In dresses. From bags to dresses . . . Lost.

(Breaks out of it)

They offered me everything. They offered me fur coats. I didn’t want them. They offered me wine. The war was over. They offered me sleep. I slept . . . They thought I was fourteen. I looked like it. I was —

(Can’t come up with the word. Motions to her body. KRAUS does not have a guess for what she means. She becomes very frustrated, catches herself.)

I can get very angry.

(Silence)

I lost three children, which I don’t want to talk about, because I will cry.

(This is the only time SURVIVOR looks even faintly teary eyed. Pause.)

Mitzvah.

KRAUS
Mitzvah! This is a mitzvah.

(KRAUS hugs SURVIVOR.)

SURVIVOR
Mitzvah means to do something good . . . Not to remember is to be on the side of the German Nazis. To remember is to do justice, to remember those that are persecuted. Any persecution, not just Jewish persecution. Any. Including the hungry. In Africa. I give them my — It is to mitzvah.

KRAUS
Well—this is a mitzvah, mother.

(KRAUS motions for GIRL, his daughter, to join in the hug.)

This is a mitzvah, matka.
(The hug breaks apart.)

SURVIVOR
Someone stole my yellow star. I don’t know why.

(Pause.)

The SS.
(SURVIVOR bangs her fist on the table, hard for her age, then sits emotionless. Pause.)

I sing. For you. Would you like?

GIRL
Yes. Yes. Very much.

SURVIVOR
(Sings with a girl’s voice.)

Kdo mà pràvo ràd / a kdo se nebojí, / je nás kamarád / a smí si s námi hrát!

GIRL
What’s it from?

SURVIVOR
Brundibar. Children’s opera. Lyrics from the opera.

GIRL
What does they mean?

KRAUS
Do. Do they mean.

SURVIVOR
“Who likes justice and who is not afraid. This is my friend and with where I want to live” . . . Rough translation.

GIRL
It’s beautiful.

SURVIVOR
Vnučka, you are. You are, vnučka.


END


Photo: Cover of Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula edited by Ron Riekki

Photo: Cover of Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula edited by Ron Riekki

Ron Riekki's books include a novel titled U.P., The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book), and Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His play “Carol” was in The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2012, The First Real Halloween was best sci-fi/fantasy screenplay for the 2014 International Family Film Festival, and his story "The Family Jewel" was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2015. Twitter: @RonRiekki.