Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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The Holocaust in Hebrew Drama
T h e
p l a y w r i g h t
w r i t i n g
on the Holocaust, shares identical
difficulties with the novelist and the poet. He, too, must trans-
form the unspeakable atrocities of the Hitlerian era into words.
He, too, must travel from documentation to art, from the
horrors of the Holocaust to their imaginative realization in
literature. His creative task does not stop here, for he must
carry the literary imagination one step beyond the written
word, to its visual realization on stage. The playwright brings
a cycle to a close in the artistic realization on stage of the
concentration camp universe. Between the artist and the audi-
ence there is no longer a word on a page but a controlled visual
reality. The playwright’s task may well be the most difficult
and vulnerable one. The playwright cannot hope to find
guidance in Western or Jewish tradition. The mass anonymity
of the victims, the overwhelming atrocities, have a precedent
neither in Western drama nor in Jewish literature, where drama
is a relative newcomer to millenia-old literary traditions. Can
the medium of the stage convey the message of Auschwitz
without minimizing or distorting the reality of that huge
European wasteland?
The Theatre and Its Double,1
Antonin Artaud (1896-1948)
charts a new course for the theatre. His views have had a
powerful impact upon the aesthetics of contemporary drama.
The book was published in 1938, before Hitler’s atrocities
assumed monstrous proportions. Artaud argued for a return to
drama as a primitive rite concerned with elemental human
needs and emotions. Drama must protest artificial values im-
posed by a rationalistic culture. Such drama will repudiate
established conventions and forms of the modern theatre with
its reliance on text, speech, plot, psychological analysis and the
proscenium arch, in favor of a purely irrational assemblage of
sounds where gestures symbolize ideas and effigies and bizarre
1 Antonin Artaud,
The Theatre and Its Double,
trans. from the French
by Mary C. Richards. New York, Grove Press, 1958.
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