Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland
Perdition: Top (left): Joyce Springer; Top (right): Alfred Hofman; Bottom (left): Morris Perry; Bottom (middle): Osnat Schmool. Barristers, from left to right: Rebecca Gethings, Ian Flintoff and Penny Bunton. Picture © The Gate Theatre, 1999
For the first time since the 1980's, the play Perdition was performed in London, at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, until July this year. First, I rang the theatre to ask for press tickets, and they said this would be no problem. l also asked for an interview with Elliot Levey, the director of the play, and l was told this could be easily arranged. They asked for the web address of Flame, so they could see my piece on Rudolf Kasztner and Perdition, and said they would get back to me. When the Gate Theatre contacted me again, it was to tell me that after they, and the artistic director Mick Gordon, had looked at Flame they had decided to refuse press tickets as "they didn't like the way it was written". Imagine my surprise when l saw Michael Billington's review of the play in The Guardian on 14th June 1999, which ironically contained many of the allegations mentioned in my article about Rudolf Kasztner. Giving it a "mediocre" rating, Billington doubted the plays format, which gives the audience fiction rather than fact, and he noted it's weakness in that "it treats Zionism as a monolithic force".
After seeing this review, l had misgivings about going. However, along with my Co-editor John Heathcote, we decided to go and see Perdition and give it a fair hearing. Thus, we entered the theatre with mixed feelings. I was expecting to be disappointed, but l came away impressed by the play, which makes a fair attempt to put before the audience both the Zionist and the anti-Zionist points of view. The set is made up as a court room in London in 1967, where Rudolf Kasztner appears as Dr Miklos Yaron, a Hungarian gynaecologist, (played by Morris Perry) who brings a case for libel against Ruth Kaplan, an anti-Zionist Israeli Jew (played by Osnat Schmool). She has published a pamphlet called I Accuse ! which claims that Yaron, and other members of the Judenrat (Jewish Council) in Budapest in 1944 of collaborating with Eichmann in the killing of 500,000 Hungarian Jews.
Where l suspect Perdition becomes controversial from a Zionist standpoint, is that it repeats the claims - made again by Holocaust survivors - that Zionism was more concerned with the creation of the State of Israel than the rescue of Hungarian Jews. Yaron claims in his defence that, because of the war, cooperation was an enforced necessity, and that by dealing with Eichmann, the Zionists were able to save 18,000 Jews from the gas chambers. One shocking claim about Kasztner mentioned in the play, is that he was involved in the distribution of postcards from Jews sent to the death camps who were forced to fill them in by the SS, saying things like "we are having a good time ! we cannot wait to see you ! it will be OK !". These were then sent to Hungary and distributed by the Zionists. One impressive performance in the play is by Ian Flintoff, who as Alec Scott, prosecutes Yaron. On this subject he observes to him: The people who filled in these postcards were dead in the gas chambers before the people in Hungary read them ! Yaron denies any involvement in the distribution postcards from Auschwitz.
I was also impressed by the play in that is raises the other nagging question of the role of the Jewish Councils in wartime Europe - why did they suppress the truth about the Holocaust ? Why did they collaborate in the death of their own people ? and why did they not encourage resistance ? This question is raised by Joseph Ozrech (played by Alfred Hofman), a Jewish communist from Poland who took part in the Warsaw Uprising. He notes that the resistance shown in the ghetto of Warsaw - by anti-Zionists and Zionists alike - was the greatest moment in modern Jewish history - for the first time in 2000 years they had fought back and given the Nazi's murderers a bloody nose. If only this had happened throughout eastern Europe ! Why were the Jews of Europe not told to resist ? Why were they not told to flee to the mountains and forests and link up with other resistance forces ? If the Warsaw Ghetto uprising had been repeated throughout Poland in 1943 and Hungary in 1944, the Nazi plan for a so-called "final solution" of the Jewish people would have been thwarted, if not seriously delayed. This point is brought to the fore in Perdition. We hear how small the number of SS troops was based in Hungary compared to numbers of Jews, with the Soviet Red Army advancing on Hungary and Poland in 1944, the Nazi war machine was in no position to resist an uprising like the one that happened in the Warsaw Ghetto. The play also points out how close Romania was to Hungary and how Jews could have fled over the border to this country. It also points out how two Jewish resistance fighters who had been flown into Yugoslavia, and then crossed into Hungary to organise resistance against the Nazi's were betrayed to the Gestapo by Kasztner.
I think Perdition is a good play for several reasons: First, if someone who knows very little about these issues comes and sees it, l believe they will get a fair hearing of both points of view. Like Billington, l have had my reservations about it being based on a fictitious libel case in London in 1967, and not on the real case in Israel in 1955. But, l think the drama works well, and Jim Allen is to be commended for daring to deal with such a controversial subject. I think credit should also be given to Elliot Levey and the Gate Theatre for putting this on again, and giving people the opportunity to make their own minds up as regards the collaboration between Zionists and the Nazi's in Hungary during the war. Both of us felt that many of the points presented here in Flame were echoed in the script itself perhaps in more emotional language than we as journalists would dare to use ourselves. Maybe this is why Jim Allen decided to write Perdition as a drama despite basing it on fact.
For my part, it reinforced my belief that these allegations against Rudolf Kasztner are true; and that if the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was one of the greatest moments of Jewish history, then whole episode of Rudolf Kasztner and the fate of 500,000 Jews in Hungary is one of the most shameful.
I later wrote to Elliot Levey at the Gate Theatre complaining about the way Flame had been denied press tickets. I received no reply.
Seán Mac Mathúna