I have never witnessed such powerfully emotional theatre as I have at “Crying Hands: Deaf People In Hitler’s Germany.”
This docudrama by playwright and director Bentein Baardson is a warning cry for humanity to take a stand when evil reveals itself. Crying Hands uses stories sourced from interviews with ten deaf survivors of Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz, living in Israel.
The performance includes two actors, a sign language interpreter and a narrator who presents historical facts by way of sign language.
Hans is a deaf German Christian born to a working-class family. Because of his love for motorcycles and a desire to belong, Hans becomes a member of the Nazi deaf Storm Trooper unit that participates in a parade to welcome the new Chancellor of Germany to his town. The division is ultimately disbanded because imperfect beings such as the deaf have no place in this new Germany. He is sentenced to a labour camp, Auschwitz, he goes, however, happy to help the Fatherland.
Hans’ story is of one who desire to belong, caused him to ignore the atrocious actions of the group he wanted to be in. As he reflects on his time in Auschwitz, Hans realizes that evil begins with a lack of empathy, including his own.
Hans is played with tremendous force and energy by Ronny Patrick Jacobsen. Dressed in all black, Jacobsen conveys the complex emotions of Hans with his dynamic signing, broad body movements and facial expressions.
Ipek D. Melhum plays Gertrude the only daughter of an influential German family, her father a doctor. After graduation from the University of Berlin, rare at the time for a woman, Gertrude becomes the leader of the committee responsible for the Eugenics project. The project’s purpose was to improve the human race by scientific means but it becomes a dilemma for her when a revelation disrupts her life.
Ms. Melhum performs with passion and aplomb as Gertrude transforms from a buoyant, ingenuous woman to a desperate and scared imprisoned woman full of shame and self-loathing. Her movements as she relates her story are passionate and fervent. Her facial expressions are compelling and she delivered a heart-felt performance.
There is an accompanying projection of photographs designed by Simon Valentine. The images cast on the back wall of the stage added graphic impact with relevant historical references.
Erik Hedin created an effective sound design: I was jarred from my seat when the bombs went off. Lighting designer Torkel SKjaerven’s use of colour augmented the moods conveyed by the actors.
At the conclusion of Crying Hands I was moved to tears. I pondered the line “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” and wondered if it is ever going to be possible to fully understand Auschwitz?
Crying Hands: Deaf People In Hitler’s Germany is a Theatre Passe Muraille Presentation of Theatre Manu Community Engagement Partner the Deaf Culture Centre. It closes Mar 23 2019.