Israel, 1961. The eve of the Eichmann trial. Nochi, a bright young attorney on the prosecution team of the Eichmann trial, is flung into an unexpected conflict: Anda, a hospital nurse who survived Auschwitz, wants to testify at the trial, but has been rejected by Ben-Gurion’s political establishment. Nochi risks his career and his romantic involvement, and is torn between his desire to remain faithful to his principles and the pressure to bend to political dictates.It is a powerful play which follows a fictional lawyer (Nochi) working in Gidon Hausner's prosecution department as he tries to help put together the case against Eichmann. He is periodically visited by a representative of the Mapai party who wants to influence the way the trial is handled. Specifically he wants to make sure that all the witnesses testifying have no affiliation with parties opposed to Mapai's agenda and especially no witnesses from Hungary who might stir up the issues related to Kastner. Anda comes to him having suffered through 'medical' experiments in block 10 of Aushwitz. The party man won't allow her testimony because he has a picture of her alongside Menachm Begin at the famous demonstration against taking reparations from Germany. The play explores the relationships between the European Jews who came to Palestine before the Holocaust, those born here, the Jews who came after the Holocaust and their children. Nochi is a child who was sent by his parents from Poland to Palestine at the last minute and grew up a kibbutz among sabras whose parents were kibbutzniks. Having no parents he was a yeled chutz, literally an 'outside child'. Nochi wants to be 'inside'. The play explores his relationship with the sabras in the form of his girlfriend and her father, with the people from 'there' like Anda and Nochi's own father who survived and now lives in Jerusalem struggling to come to terms with his survival and with his relationship with his son.
The characters represent forces that molded the collective consciousness here in those early years. Ben-Gurion and Mapai were ruthless in their control. Some of this was bad indeed and we are still suffering from many of injustices and misjudgements of that period. But to be fair, had BG not been so heavy handed a lot of what was accomplished in those years might not have gotten done at all. Yisrael Eldad (one of the triumverate that headed the Lehi Fighters for the Freedom of Israel and father of Prof. Aryeh Eldad MK) used to say that if Menachem Begin had been Prime Minister instead of BG he would not have brought all those Jews to Israel to live in the ma'abarot (tent villages) in '48-49. He would have said to wait until things got a little better and we could offer them better conditions after all the suffering they've been through. There might very well be something to that.
The years before the Eichman trial were also the years when what we refer to today as the 'survivors' were just refugees, the remnants, the sheep who didn't get slaughtered. Nochi's world isn't interested in what happened to his father except to show that they were right, Jews belong here not there. And the Jews from there had to justify their survival. For the most part they kept quiet. The lucky ones managed to build a new life. The Eichmann trial was a turning point. It gave us all a chance to hear the stories. I believe that being able to focus on a trial and a punishment made it more legitimate to tell the story. This was not wallowing in self-pity but the survivors represented by their State prosecuting a perpetrator.
Grappling with our image of the Holocaust, the survivors, the role of the State of Israel and the role of the leaders in Eretz Yisrael before the state in relation to European Jewry is fascinating and complex. The play succeeds because it's not just about the past.
Many of the issues raised are as relevant to our identity as Israelis today as they were in 1961. Maybe even more so.