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Primo and Elie

Act 1: The Arrival

(Description) The stage will have a backscreen portraying images of happy Jewish life prior to the War, including children playing, women and girls lighting Shabbos candles, Yeshiva boys studying, people walking in the park, and so on. Then the screen goes black, and on the two edges of the stage, train cattle cars line up filled with people that are struggling to find room and get air, a prisoner walks to the middle of the stage and starts talking.

“My name is Primo- Primo Levi. I’m a young man from Turin, a chemist by trade, and now I am on the way to Auschwitz. I was for a few months in a Jewish camp. We all heard the rumors, we all had an idea of where we’re going, but none of us are capable to imagine what Auschwitz really is. I was caught as a partisan. I really didn’t get to be a partisan. I was exposed before our group had a chance to do anything, but once they discovered I’m Jewish, it was the preference of the powers that be to punish me for being a Jew rather than shooting me for being a partisan. In my case, there was at least a reason for my arrest. I was trying to rebel against a Fascist system that discriminated against me and many others. But what about the other people on the train?”

(Description) A boy steps forward.

“My name is Ancho. I’m 6 years old. “

(Description) A man steps forward.

“My name is Roberto. I’m 83 years old.”

(Description) A woman steps forward.

“My name is Adriana. I’m 34 years old. I’m here on the train with my little children.”

(Description) The other prisoners step back into the train. Primo continues to talk.

"They’re only crying because they’re Jewish. Hardly a crime, but one that will earn you death by torture in the most horrific place ever existing on our planet. By the way, Ancho, Roberto, and Adriana did not survive. In fact, all three were dead within hours from the moment they arrived in Auschwitz. From the 645 people with me on this cattle car, only 20 ended up going back home. The rest perished in the most horrific of ways. Then, many others died because they were Jewish. We were Italian Jews. None of us were particularly religious or observant, and some of us identified more as Italian than Jewish."

(Description) The train stops. German officers are yelling in German instructions and directions. Old people and young kids are pushed to the left and disappear behind the stage, while on the screen, smoke from the crematorium is coming. That part of the stage goes dark and another part of the stage of lights up and another train cattle car arrives. A teenage boy steps up and says:

“My name is Eliezer Wiesel. I come from Hungary, from the town of Sighet. I’m a Yeshiva student. We were warned by a friend of mine that this was happening, but we didn’t want to believe him as it was too hard to believe. At first, we heard about the war and we knew Jews were suffering, but our life continued as usual. My father was a shopkeeper, his business was doing well, he was respected in the community, I was studying Torah, and my beautiful golden-haired sister was looking for matches to get married. The war was raging, but for us it was possible to escape Hungary and Europe, get a certificate, and go to Palestine, but few did that. People just thought it would be better to wait it out and things would get better, and then, a Fascist government took power and shortly after that, German soldiers arrived, and yet, people still thought that nothing was going to happen and we were going to wait it out. The next step, the Jews were put into a ghetto, a segregated corner of town. Then, various decrees and laws were passed: Jews cannot leave home after 6, Jews cannot go to work, Jews cannot go to school. Yet we still thought there is hope and we wanted to wait it out. Shortly after that, Hungarian police came to our house and declared that Jews are not allowed to own valuables and took away all our valuables- our gold, our money, and anything else that had value. Then we were ordered to pack one bag of personal possessions and go to the center of town to be transported. Even then, people still had hope and said: “They’re probably sending us to work in factories, somewhere in Hungary, further from the border.”. After 6 hours waiting at the center of town with no food or water, we were pushed onto cattle cars and the journey to the darkest place in human history had begun. We committed no crime. Among us there were little kids, old men, and families. Our only crime was that we were Jewish: the worst crime of all in this dark time. Night has fallen.”

(Description) The cart stops in Auschwitz and the scenes of selection and crematorium mentioned earlier are repeated. The stage goes dark, the video screen behind portrays images from Auschwitz: people being shot, people being hanged, piles of corpses, both photographs and art portraying the horrific scenes of Auschwitz. A band dressed as prisoners comes to the stage and starts playing cheerful Wagner music, while Nazi officers are standing while smoking cigars and laughing and prisoners march in unison in rows of three with their heads bowed down back and forth along the stage. The stage goes dark.

End of Act 1

 

Act 2: Conversation over Soup

(Description) Elie runs over to a group of other prisoners on the other side of the stage.

“Are you the chemist working commando? I was told to find Primo and bring soup from the kitchen.”

(Description) Primo walks with Elie. As they walk around, the video screen continues to portray the horrors of Auschwitz and other camps, but Primo and Elie seem oblivious to it. Primo looks at the number on Elie’s arm and says:

“You are one of the Hungarians: the new ones! What is your name?”

Elie says:

“Yes. I’m one of the new ones. My name is Eliezer. Some people call me Elie. We just arrived a week ago. They killed my mother and sister. I witnessed them incinerating babies.”

Primo says:

“My dear boy, don’t talk about all this. Concentrate on just surviving, today and tomorrow. I heard from my transports that most of the people that arrived with me are dead, but through resourcefulness and luck and with the help of my very good friend Alberto, I am still here. If you can find somebody you can trust, you can enhance your chance of survival, though in this camp, you can hardly trust anyone.”

Elie replies:

“I’m here with my father. I trust my father. I hope that helps. “

Primo says:

“I hope that you survive tomorrow and the next day, and maybe even more.”

Primo continues:

“You have to learn that whatever item you leave will be stolen, even if it’s just your shirt or spoon. You have to learn that people will do anything to get another piece of bread, including your bread. We are all victims, it’s not about good or bad, it’s about dying or surviving. In this sick experiment that the Nazis are conducting, they are taking everything from us. We are just a number. They have taken our dignity, our strength, our rights, our knowledge, everything is taken away and they don’t even give us enough to survive in this cruel experiment, with few exceptions that I saw, it’s every man for himself, but right now, we have an easy task of bringing soup for half an hour. We can have a conversation, we don’t have to work, and we’re not beaten. Cherish that.”

Elie speaks:

“But why are the Germans doing it to the Jews? What have we done? What’s our crime? We come from different places. Some of us are old. Some of us are young. We speak different languages. Some of us are deeply religious. Some of us are totally secular. Some of us are rich. Some of us are poor. Why are the Germans doing it to us? I will never forgive them! This is not the Dark Ages! This is the 20th Century!”

Primo speaks:

“Eliezer, they happen to be German and we happen to be Jews, but this is man doing to it to man. This is evil that is being done to a fellow person. It was done in the past in different ways to different people. Not too long ago, Turks massacred millions of Armenians. Just a few hundred years ago, slaves from Africa were brought to the New World. It happened in the past and it will happen in the future. It is just that the Germans have brought this to a whole new level of organization and modern methods. If you ever get out of here, tell the world about this place.”

Elie speaks:

“You must tell the world also if you ever get out of here!”

Primo responds:

“It was a mistake of mine to mention if we ever get out of here. Let’s concentrate on surviving today and next week. And anyway, I’m no writer, I’m a chemist, and my dream is…there’s no dreams in this place. But let me give you a piece of advice. If there’s a soup line, never stand at the front of the line because there will be only liquid, and never stand at the back of the line because there might be none left. Stand somewhere in the middle, because you will have a chance to get turnips and potatoes, and that might keep you alive. Concentrate on the things that can keep you alive for one more day. A few other pieces of advice: When you go to the bathroom, take everything you have with you. If you find anything that can be useful like a button or a wire or an extra spoon, keep it. Maybe you’ll be able to trade it for a few crumbs of bread. If you can be useful to your Kapo in any way, do it. Some Kapos are nicer than others. That will save you a senseless beating or even give you a break from work. If there is a selection, try not to be first or last. Breathe in and try not to contract your muscles to make yourself a little stronger.”

(Description) As they are carrying the soup, the band starts playing cheerful music. Elie and Primo disappear behind groups of prisoners marching in unison back and forth. The lights go off.

End of Act 2

Act 3: Conversation About God

(Description) Elie runs over to a group of prisoners and says:

“Primo, we were sent again to get soup!”

Primo responds:

“Oh, it’s a relief to stop cleaning these chemical tanks and to see that you’re still alive, Elie!”

Elie says:

“I’m still alive, but in a few months, I feel like I’ve aged a thousand years. I have seen horror after horror. I have seen death all around me. I have seen my father being beaten in front of my eyes and I did nothing to help him. I was beaten severely and if not for a French civilian woman giving me some words of comfort afterwards, I would probably have given up. I have seen a boy being hanged, and because of his light weight, not dying for half an hour. I have seen every horror imaginable, and yes, Primo, you were right. They took everything from us. Sometimes I feel we’re not human anymore. We’re just bodies. In fact, I feel we are just a stomach waiting in hunger for the next portion of soup. In my long hours of hard work in the construction commando, I have thought of what you said. It is man doing it to man, but as a Jew, I still think I have to view it as Germans doing it to Jews. What I hate the Germans the most for, is for taking away my God.

Primo responds:

“Elie, if Auschwitz exists, God doesn’t exist.”

Elie replies:

“God exists, but maybe he is concealed like the Hasidic masters tell us, or maybe the Germans killed God. God exists in the boy hanging from the gallows with his sad eyes, God exists in the mother witnessing her baby thrown into the fire. We have kept our belief in God for thousands for years and we owe it to our people not to give up. But I find it so hard.”

Primo responds:

“My Judaism is very different to yours. I have not studied in Yeshiva, I am not familiar with the Talmud, and very rarely, I participate in a synagogue service. In fact, my family is completely secular. We had people marrying non-Jews and we are totally secular and immersed in Italian culture. Sometimes I think the manifestation of my Judaism is when I eat a prosciutto sandwich with Mozzarella cheese, and I feel guilty about it. That’s as Jewish as I get. But you see, all your many hours of study and prayers and devotion to God, and we are both in the same place.”

Elie responds:

“Yes, I participated in Rosh Hashana prayers just a few weeks ago led by a prisoner. There were hundreds of prisoners thanking and praising God, and I was so angry. Why is God not helping these people? Why is he not punishing the Germans? He punished Noah’s generation for sins that pale in comparison to what the Germans are doing! When I came to wish my father a happy new year, I could not do it, and all I did is kiss him on a hand and both of us shed tears. I don’t know if I will ever forgive God. I am angry with him. But I have to believe that he exists or existed or will exist. This Yom Kippur was the first time that I have not fasted.”

Primo responds:

“Even I know that God will forgive you for all that. We are hungry all the time. It will be too dangerous to fast. God is good and forgiving, regardless if he exists or not.”

(Description) As they are carrying the soup, the band starts playing cheerful music. Elie and Primo disappear behind groups of prisoners marching in unison back and forth. The lights go off.

End of Act 3

 

Act 4: At the Infirmary

(Description) Rows of bunk beds with two prisoners in each, a doctor in a white coat going back and forth trying to help the sick, patients are coughing, yelling and crying.

Elie speaks:

“Primo, is that you?”

Primo replies:

“Elie, what are you doing here?”

Elie responds:

“I had an infection in my foot. I was operated by a doctor. A Jewish doctor. A prisoner just like us. They had to operate me without putting me to sleep. The doctor was so kind. He promised me that in a few weeks, my leg would be okay. Why are you here?”

Primo responds:

“I have fever, but for me, being here is a rest and a chance to get stronger.”

Elie says:

“The war is almost over. There are rumors that the Germans are losing. As you know, the Russians are even bombing the camp. We have to hold on a little longer.”

Primo says:

“I’m happy, Elie, that you didn’t lose your faith. But the experience here is that you can’t be an optimist. In this camp, things only get worse, and as you can see, the Germans, even in their defeat, continue to kill, torment, and torture us. All we can do is hope to survive another day.”

Elie replies:

“No Primo, we need to hope to survive this war. If only so we can tell the world what has happened. If only that we can, as Jewish people, rise from the ashes, go to Palestine, establish our own country, and defend ourselves, so this cannot happen to us again. I met two boys here at the camp, Tibi and Yossi. They taught me about Zionism, and they even taught me Hebrew songs. They did not survive the selection. I owe it to them to continue their dreams.”

Primo responds:

“I admire your faith and desire. Someone in the camp, a prisoner by the name of Victor, a wonderful man, once told me that those who have a purpose and something to live for have a better chance to come out of this alive. I don’t know if that’s true. If I survive, I would like to go back to my home in Turin, to the house I grew up, and to live the rest of my days in peace.”

Elie replies:

“No Primo, you will survive, and if you do, you have to tell the story of what happened here.”

Primo responds:

“Okay my friend, if I survive, I’ll do it for you, but I still just want to go back to my home in Turin.”

Elie responds:

“I will never want to go home to Hungary. The Hungarians rejoiced in our defeat and treated us very badly. I would like to go to Palestine, and if that can’t happen, I would go to Paris or even America, but I will never go back to Hungary.”

(Description) A knock on the window interrupts them.

Alberto says:

“Primo, they’re evacuating the camp and taking us to other camps on the long march in Germany. They are losing the war, but they’re still holding on to their Jews.

Primo says:

“I am too sick to walk. I will stay here and take my chances. Good luck Alberto.”

Alberto replies:

“Good luck my brother! I will see you in Italy!”

Elie speaks:

“Primo. I have to find my father. I’m going to walk with him, even though I can barely step on my foot. We survived so long together, my father and I.  He protected me. I have to find him and go on the long march with him. Good luck Primo.”

Primo responds:

“Good luck Elie. Your friendship was one of the only moments of light in this camp. Maybe after all, in some way, God exists.”

(Description) Elie runs out and joins a long convoy of prisoners walking with SS guards beating them as they move. The band starts playing music again. The stage goes dark.

End of Act 4

 

Epilogue

(Description) An SS officer comes to the middle of the stage. The back screen portrays pictures from the Holocaust in Auschwitz, and pictures of happy Jewish life. The officer announces, yelling in a thick German accent.

German Officer:

“Primo and Elie have survived, but Primo’s best friend Alberto and Elie’s father have perished, with millions of others. So, we were pretty successful, after all. However, Primo and Elie became famous authors, who told their stories to the world, and wrote other great works of literature. Primo returned home to Turin, to the house he grew up in and never left. Elie moved to Paris, and then to America, and ended up winning the Nobel Prize. You can thank us for their success as well. Primo and Elie met once, many years after the war. They did not talk about the past. When Primo passed away, Elie said “Primo died in Auschwitz, just 40 years later.” Elie passed away in 2016, but we are still here, hateful as ever. Ha ha ha ha. Yes, this is man, and good night.”

(Description) The stage goes dark. The band plays Wagner one last time.

The End

 

 

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