(Six months later)
(As in Act I but the Guard and several other soldiers are behind the gate that now acts as a prison for them as the Russian Army has liberated the camp. Stage left there should be a barrack erected with a Red Cross on it which will double for the dumb show later on, but its presence should be muted to make its appearance as the gas chamber more dramatic)
(The Guard is looking out through the gate the others have their backs to it. He is unshaven, gaunt and his clothes are unkempt. After a few seconds some survivors of the camp enter stage left and cross by the gate. The soldiers turn in curiosity and the survivors mock the soldiers. The Guard and the rest turn their backs on the taunts. Ahasuerus is at the back of the group, unseen by the Guard. Ahasuerus spots him and walks up toward him. As he reaches the gate he pits his hand inside the fence and taps the Guard on the shoulder. The Guard swings round in surprise. He looks at Ahasuerus but it takes a few moments for him to recognize him)
Guard: Good Christ, Ahasuerus!
(Ahasuerus sees the Guard and goes across to him)
Ahasuerus: Helpmann, Helpmann my friend! How are you?
Guard: Not so good, but is it you, is it really you?
Ahasuerus: Why are you so surprised, you doubting Thomas?
Guard: When I saw you being led away to the chamber…I thought…didn’t they (Whispers) gas you?
Ahasuerus: They tried and failed. How long have you been captive?
Guard: Some days now. You are in the ascendancy.
Ahasuerus: I derive no pleasure seeing you incarcerated. If I were your jailer you’d be free, you know that.
Guard: Returning a favour?
Ahasuerus: I wasn’t very grateful for your assistance, was I?
Guard: I wouldn’t have given you any if I’d known the truth then.
Ahasuerus: I am the way, the truth and the light.
Guard: Still playing mind games? Ahasuerus, I’m tired. Perhaps it’s best for you to do what I asked you long ago, and walk away. Take your victory with you.
Ahasuerus: Victory! Impossible, I lost.
Guard: You miserable bastard! How can you say that? You have returned from a place where people become shadows. Look at the carnage that surrounds you. You are untouched. The Russians have liberated the camp and you are safe. I’m the captive here. Look, (Takes out a photograph from inside his coat) my wife – she will never welcome me home again; never kiss my forehead and take my hat or make me dinner or keep me warm in a cold bed. I’ve lost!
Ahasuerus: Am I free? Aren’t interpretations of liberty an individual privilege?
Guard (Gripping the wire in both hands and shaking it): Well this is mine!
Ahasuerus: But nothing’s changed in that, don’t you see?
Guard (Angry): It was my duty.
Ahasuerus: And continues to be.
Guard: Why are you so bitter with me?
I prayed for you.
Ahasuerus: You did? When was this?
Guard: After they took you to the gas chamber. I asked God to spare you.
Ahasuerus: What right did you have to do that?
Guard: You selfish old sod. I went down on my knees for the first time in years. I supplicated myself, repented all my sins and offered it all up for your life.
Ahasuerus: If you truly wanted to help me you should have prayed for me to die.
Guard: What did I expect? Did I really consider that our relationship would ever end with some sort of mutual respect? Are you so cynical that you treat contemptuously any act of charity offered you?
Ahasuerus: Cynicism is a disease prevalent throughout the world. Why condemn me for it?
Guard: But you could be a cure. You are immortal. You can protest the complaints of the repressed without the threat of being silenced.
Ahasuerus: The repressed! Ah of course you are among their number now.
Guard: Condemned, not repressed – I ask for nothing.
Ahasuerus: But why me? Does my immortality qualify me any more than you? If not, why pray?
Guard: To save you.
Ahasuerus: It’s not me you want to save, it’s you.
Guard: You harden my heart again Ahasuerus. You have gone un-forgiven for so long you cannot recognize remorse in anyone else.
Ahasuerus: I’m touched that you cared Helpmann, but for once it may have been more provident to have thought of yourself. You couldn’t accept the fact that your Party machine was omnipotent in trying to destroy me. Even after returning from a mass grave with your own bullet embedded in my chest, your mind was unwilling to acknowledge a power greater than your own. What did that Party logic whisper in your ear, eh, that maybe you are really a bad marksman or could it be possible for someone buried alive to hold their breath for hours? Even better, perhaps, perchance, I may actually be a madman who has authored his own myth?
Guard: But If you are secure in your own indestructibility, why come here, why bring me this torment?
Ahasuerus: I arrived here with nothing and am leaving with nothing.
Guard: You haven’t answered the question, why here?
Ahasuerus: I’d heard certain rumours about this place, rumours concerning the operation of the camp, as I was passing through a local village.
Guard: So your appearance here was no accident.
Ahasuerus: A white lie.
Guard: But you are Jewish. How did you escape imprisonment for so long?
Ahasuerus: I have no fixed address, no friends or family. I have no papers, no identification. I wander. What did you see in me when we first met, a Jew?
Ahasuerus: Even so, if there had been something in my appearance that betrayed my origins you would have arrested me immediately. Not even that, an item of clothing perhaps, a gesture or simply the way I walk.
(Guard looks troubled)
I’m sorry Helpmann, I don’t wish to be cruel or cynical but oftentimes it is a requisite demanded by a cruel and cynical world, a defence mechanism of sorts. Thank you for praying…
Guard (Interrupting): Back in Munich I befriended a boy – I may have mentioned it before but it’s difficult to remember all that’s passed between us.
Ahasuerus: Please explain…there is still time.
(Guard pauses again)
Ahasuerus: Is this a final secret, a confession maybe?
Guard: A valediction.
(Young boys enter stage left and begin to play football. The Guard joins in. Another boy enters alone. He is tall and gangly)
The first time we saw him he was circling my friends and me as we played football. He was very tall and circumspect. He watched us for a while, too shy to ask to join in, so eventually we invited him in ourselves.
(He does so. They all kick the football about)
He turned out to be a good player and later when he felt more comfortable he showed us some tricks, things that we had never thought of trying to do with a ball.
(Boy does some tricks with football with apparent ease)
Of course we all tried to imitate him but we could never match his graceful aspect, nevertheless before long he was one of the gang. It was only when he tried to converse that we noticed he was a little slow. God (Chuckles) he used to drive us mad with questions like “If you held your breath long enough could you swim in space?” or “If a tree could speak what would he say to the sky?” But he became part of the gang. To look at him you would have thought there was nothing extraordinary about him except for one thing.
Ahasuerus: What was that?
Guard: I noticed it first in the park. It was a sunny day but all of a sudden it just clouded over and got very dark.
(Light dims over boys)
Then, abruptly, a streak of lightning shimmered across the black rain-fat clouds.
(Lightning streaks across the sky)
We all ducked and began to turn for home; some of the gang were petrified. As I turned I noticed him start slowly toward the far end of the park, closer to the storm. The rain started falling and I called him but he took notice. I was just about to shout again when all of a sudden he began to bounce!
Guard: Yes. I thought he was terrified and was having an epileptic fit but when I reached him and looked at his face I could see that he was in fact exhilarated by the tempest and the bouncing was an expression of his excitement.
(Boy jumps up and down on the spot)
I started to laugh despite my fear of the storm because his behaviour was so strange and I couldn’t understand why. I called the others back and they became so entranced with him that their own terror vanished.
Soon after we found out that he had some learning problems and that his obsession with the weather was a facet of his condition. It never altered a thing – he was still one of us.
(Begins to laugh)
We even began to join in with him at times.
(They all jump up and down and one by one begin to exit leaving the Guard jumping alone. The tall boy remains at his side smiling at the Guard)
It was crazy but wonderful. It was like seeing the world in a new way. I felt liberated. For the first time I could actually sense the shape and force of a tree, taste the ethereal consistency of a cloud or imitate the sway of a flower in the breeze. At night when I felt tense or couldn’t sleep I would go to my bedroom window and bounce!
That purple panorama would burst into life. The moon would dance and the stars quiver. One had the impression of the immenseness of the earth moving within the cosmos. I might have only jumped for a couple of minutes but I’d return to bed relaxed and exhausted.
Ahasuerus: What happened to the boy?
Guard: His behaviour scared people, people that didn’t understand him. The Party were informed and took him away.
Guard: They couldn’t see the poetry.
(Uniformed soldiers enter and remove the boy. The Guard stops bouncing)
So from then on my feet stayed firmly on the ground.
Ahasuerus: And your heart buried beneath them like a lost treasure.
Guard: It was survival. You more than anyone should be familiar with that concept. You know I still have your brush.
(Picks it up from nearby)
Maybe if I offered to sweep that would keep me safe.
Ahasuerus: It isn’t big enough. How many do you think they have killed?
Ahasuerus: Not just here but replicated in other camps, ghettos, streets and fields; thousands, tens of thousands – maybe more?
Guard: I only know of here.
Ahasuerus: All of them desperate to live, to be reunited with their loved ones; fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins…friends. Yet here am I one pissed off, miserable, tired old man desperately seeking an end to my journey. Here am I wishing for and being denied death. I would have given my life willingly for any of those butchered, but it’s far too easy. I don’t know if it’s God that complicates things or man.
Guard: So he does exist then?
Ahasuerus: Who can say? That was just an expression. Do I exist? Perhaps I’m a ghost – a wandering essence that has never subsisted except in the remorseful sub-conscious of those who will me into being. After all only spirits walk away from the gas chambers surely?
Guard: You walked away six months ago. Where on earth have you been for so long?
Ahasuerus: Here in the camp, but concealed in a barrack out on the camp perimeter.
Guard: The haunted hut; you, in there? That explains an awful lot. It used to be a store room, but one day the Commandant banned everyone from approaching it. Then, after he went mad, rumours began about him locking something up in there. When some of the guards got drunk they dared each other to go over there alone. Some had even bragged that they’d seen a shape, covered in hair and barely human, with green eyes and a thin pale face, staring back at them. So they were lying all the time.
Ahasuerus: Were they? You try dieting for six months. I guarantee you won’t look like Goering. Without the Russians I would look like that still. I’m not immune to hunger only death.
Weren’t you curious?
Guard: The hut? Do me a favour. I was too traumatised with our little episode to even consider another mystery. Since they took you away I’ve spent most of my waking hours trying to convince myself that it was all some Hellish nightmare.
Ahasuerus: And the rifle is still clean?
Guard: If I recall you quashed any doubt of you being any less than alive.
Ahasuerus: Isn’t it human to have doubts?
Guard: Ahasuerus, I have given up trying to define you.
Ahasuerus: Then my time here hasn’t been wasted.
Guard: But you haven’t died. Didn’t the gas affect you at all?
Ahasuerus: Did it sting, you mean?
Guard: I’m not the one holding the rifle now.
Ahasuerus: Those that pick them up will at some point have to put them down or have them taken from them. As for the effect of the gas, strangely, no, I felt nothing at all.
We were piled out into the cold night and lined up ready for processing. Then after a few minutes they led us away toward the gas chamber.
(The building stage left is illuminated in chiaroscuro fashion. The Red Cross is removed. The wall nearest the audience should be removed to reveal the interior of a gas chamber. It should be roofed with a vent in which a soldier will administer the gas Zyklon B. The door should be positioned to the right of the hut so that Ahasuerus can move from the present into the memory with ease)
(A line of naked men, women and children enter stage left and file past in front of the open side to form a queue in front of the gas chamber and then slowly make their way in through the door. Ahasuerus will join at the end but remains clothed)
I was pushed in with them. We were shuffled in through the open door as if we were sneaking in the back door of a movie theatre. There’d be no show though - we all knew the significance of the black glove. Some cried, but not overmuch – more a collection of muffled whimpers. Others wore such tired looks that suggested that they had accepted death a long time ago and this was merely the last transition. Mothers, the bravest of all heroes, strangled the fear in their throat, to comfort their terrified children. They entered in a line but gradually gathered in the false comfort of a circle. In that silence I heard whispered pleas. I wanted to tell them “There are no prayers here” but my only thoughts were: “Is this finally the way out?”
They shut the door then. That was the noise that really shook them -that steel clank. The last hint of moonlight was obliterated. I felt like a cataleptic waking just as the coffin lid was closing on his midnight burial. All that was visible in that blackness were our ghostly white outlines. Perhaps this was limbo? Maybe they’d already killed us and we were in a waiting room, ready to be called to paradise, to be transfigured. Then just as our eyes were getting used to the darkness a shaft of light shot through the chamber creating panic, like lightning striking in a child’s bedroom at night.
(Soldier opens vent in roof)
It reminded me of being in a dark forest once, many years ago, surrounded by the skeletons of bare trees, waiting for the first snows to arrive, that promise of death. The only source of light that thin vein of sickly yellow filtering through the pin holes in the thick wooded roof. I can tell you that walking in that dense forest of hundreds of square miles, the only audible sound was the crunch of your own footsteps on the crisp earth. But when you stopped - silence was all. It stood with you like a fellow pioneer, listening to the enormity of itself.
Then it began to snow.
(Soldier begins to administer the Zyklon B and then closes the vent. The gas crystals should be illuminated to give the effect of snow)
The light disappeared and a sudden panic of wailing burst through. The clamour seemed to take a form that repelled me back into the corner. I watched, as the branches of the trees clawed at their throats. Within seconds they began to collapse – the saplings first, then the others – falling into one another. A hill began to form – a hill of dying trees. One by one they would clamber up on those who fell before them, the branches reaching for the space where the light came through but would no longer shine. Their humanity reduced to a primal instinct, that of merely trying to procure oxygen.
I stared dumbfounded until I was aware of some other eyes blazing at me within the blackness. One woman was still standing to the side, and I could see her eyes blazing with incredulity. She began to approach me and I could see, even in that dark, how hard she had been crying. Now she had drawn quiet. Perhaps she was thinking, “What was this strange figure cowering in the corner, unharmed and breathing?” Then the look of terror transformed to one of contempt and then resignation. I must have looked to her like the last mockery of unanswered prayer. She turned her back on me, walked toward that pathetic heap and crashed down on it as if an axe had cut through the sable air and severed her trunk. I closed my eyes until the silence returned and I was back in the forest.
Guard: I…I don’t know what to…
(Ahasuerus nods an acknowledgement and gestures to be allowed to continue)
Ahasuerus: They sent in the work detail to clear out the bodies and as they began to drag them away they spotted me and ran out of the chamber. I heard the Germans shouting at them and rifles being cranked ready to shoot. One man cried,” He’s still alive…he’s still alive” and after a few moments the head of a soldier leant tentatively in. When he saw me he dropped his rifle. Then I heard him order the detail to stay away whilst he sent for the Commandant.
Guard: Our Commandant, the one who ordered you shot; that sent you to the gas chamber?
(Commandant enters in bad mood. A soldier whispers into his ear and the Commandant walks toward the chamber in a mixture of disbelief and fear. He enters the chamber and walks toward Ahasuerus)
Ahasuerus: Yes. After a few minutes I heard his voice. He’d been having supper and he wasn’t happy being disturbed. He walked into the chamber with his pistol in his gloved hand. At first he could only see my white shape in the corner but as he neared he recognized me and began to quiver. He whispered…
Ahasuerus: …and walked back outside.
(Exit all but Ahasuerus and one soldier. The light fades on the chamber. Ahasuerus is dragged about the stage by the soldier who stops centre stage to allow him to continue his story)
The next thing I knew I was being dragged away. There was nobody outside except the Germans. The work detail that had witnessed my survival was shot in front of me before they could tell anybody else; the soldiers he probably had transferred to the front line. He couldn’t leave any witnesses - nobody but himself.
Guard: But why didn’t He just shoot you?
Ahasuerus: What for? Hadn’t he ordered you to, while he stood there and watched? Hadn’t he walked along the trench they had buried me and thirty others in and put a bullet in each of our heads?
Guard: So he did recognize you when he sent you to the chamber?
Ahasuerus: No, not quite then; inside the chamber, that’s when the thunderbolt hit him. That’s why he began to shake. Here was one little obstacle he couldn’t hurdle.
Guard: Did he speak at all?
(The building is lit up again and now becomes the hut. Inside there are two chairs and a table. Commandant enters and directs the soldier to drag Ahasuerus to the hut. The soldier mimes tying him to one of the chairs)
Ahasuerus: Not a word. He took me to that hut with only one soldier. He had the soldier tie me to a chair and then dismissed him; probably sent him to the front too.
Guard: There were just the two of you left? Did he beat and torture you?
Ahasuerus: He never touched me. He pulled up another chair close by but he sat facing the door, his back toward me. He was there for a long time, but never uttered a word.
Guard: The beginning of the madness?
Ahasuerus: Which madness - his, who knows? One man’s madness is harmony with another’s sanity.
After a while I felt him shudder. Then he willed himself to stop. Then he spoke.
Commandant: Who are you?
Guard: I remember asking you that myself - another time, in another world. Did you tell him…about you and the Christ?
Ahasuerus: I never had the chance. By the time I had looked up he had disappeared, but even so I doubt if I would have said anything.
Guard: Why not? It explains everything. (Pause) Oh! Now I see…you wanted to drive him mad. You took your revenge.
Ahasuerus: Helpmann, my friend. I have seen enough of revenge, hate and jealousy to know that I want no part in them. These are forces that do not need my assistance to prosper.
Guard: Then why wouldn’t you explain?
Ahasuerus: Because it wouldn’t have any effect; telling him I was an invulnerable 2000 year old Jewish shoemaker probably would’ve driven him mad anyway. No, I think he considered me to be some kind of supernatural being, the personification of his inner guilt, given life in order to haunt him for his sins.
Guard: So what did he do with you?
Ahasuerus: He couldn’t let me go. For one thing he couldn’t take the chance that I would reveal the true nature of the camps. That would destroy the system, the process - I think you called it once. So at first he tried to starve me. He left me for a month without food. Then he stole back one night, alone.
(All lights should be faded until stage is dark with only a small light on Ahasuerus. Commandant enters carrying a torch)
I heard a noise, and then torchlight illuminated my face, followed by a deep moan and footsteps running away.
(Commandant exits and light fades on hut)
Guard: I saw him that very night. I was on watch and I too heard running coming through the camp. I went toward the sound and saw a figure running haphazardly, staggering with his hand over his mouth. I challenged him.
(Commandant enters in a panic-stricken fashion)
It was the Commandant. He couldn’t say anything. He practically collapsed into my arms. I helped him back to his quarters and all the way he kept thrusting his gloved right hand at the sky shouting.
Commandant: Empty, empty.
Guard: Three days later they took him away.
(The building is lit again but has now become the Commandant’s hut. The hut should be sparse but well-furnished with a bed, a dresser on which several objects, including war medals, trinkets photographs and a large ash-tray are placed, a full-length mirror and a wardrobe in which the Commandant’s uniforms are hung)
I stole into his quarters the next day. Most of his possessions were still there. There were framed photographs of his family on the dresser, along with his medals and some keepsakes that, presumably, were of sentimental value. I looked in his closet. His spare uniforms were hanging there immaculate. His hats, pristine of course, were sitting forward on the shelf above and his polished boots gleamed from underneath his heavy top coat.
Then I noticed something dark and crumpled on the floor. Its very untidiness made it noticeable. It was his black glove. I hesitated picking it up – so much misery had emanated from it, that I was in dread of it. Somehow I plucked up enough courage and I stole it.
Ahasuerus: What did you do with it?
Guard: I burnt it.
(The Guard puts the glove into the ash-tray on the dresser and sets it alight)
Ahasuerus: Ashes to ashes. Is it any wonder the rest of you thought the hut cursed?
(Light fades on the quarters)
Guard: But surely Ahasuerus you can’t have been in that hut all this time? Have you never been outside in the last six months?
(Ahasuerus shakes his head)
Guard: Were you still tied up?
Ahasuerus: The ropes gave way at some point, I can’t recall when.
Guard: Why didn’t you leave?
Ahasuerus: There didn’t seem to be any point. Others would have found me outside, and, as I had no other clothes they would have either tried to shoot me or put me in another camp; and as my experiment had failed I may as well have stayed here until the war was over one way or another.
Guard (Shocked): Your experiment, what psychological thesis is in store for me now? Isn’t this enough for you?
Ahasuerus: Of course, just because I can’t die it doesn’t mean I have to stop trying.
Guard: The point being?
Ahasuerus: The point, my dear Helpmann, is to live.
Guard: This is beginning to sound like our first conversation. I thought you wanted to die.
Ahasuerus: I do. But if I have to live I want it to be on my terms. My raison d’etre is to die so I can live; can you see that?
Guard: No, I cannot understand you at all.
Ahasuerus: If I just wander the Earth and accept that the curse cannot be altered I’m as good as dead.
Guard: But you cannot die. I believe in you now – I’m convinced, don’t alter the argument for sanity’s sake!
Ahasuerus: Physically, it appears, I cannot die. But I refuse to die spiritually. That is why it is important to continue the struggle to die, in order to live.
Guard: Are you trying to make me crazy? Now I know what did for the Commandant, you sat there in that hut with him spinning this crazy philosophizing of yours until he went off his head.
Ahasuerus (Patiently): Helpmann, what would you do if you were me?
Guard: Right now I would gladly change places with you.
Ahasuerus: But six months ago you wouldn’t have. Now you understand how transient that life of yours is and only now you claw at it like a fortune you forgot you owned and have found again. The value you place on your life is different to mine, and yet it is the same.
Guard: You scramble my brains.
Ahasuerus: Not long ago you were in charge here. You were in no danger. You were away from the real fighting, life was easy, and you took it for granted. You gauged the value of your life on these poor people, now that value has changed. Nevertheless death has always given your life meaning. The only difference is that I want to die, you don’t. I defy the curse by endeavouring to die. It is this effort that gives my life meaning. I refuse to let my spirit die by seeking my physical destruction.
Guard looks incredulous.
Ahasuerus: When I came here you thought I was crazy. You thought that I was insane to try and make you kill me. You think that I do not appreciate life because for the last five years you have been dead?
Guard: Ach, you are crazy. Now we are both ghosts? I wish the Russians would shoot me so I didn’t have to listen to you.
Ahasuerus: You participated in your own death. Only a dead man could chose to work here and ignore the killing that went on around you. But you are different now; we are the same.
Guard: Accept that I can die.
Ahasuerus: For which I am eternally envious.
Guard: Has the world made you so hard? Perhaps after all these years your values have changed little
Ahasuerus: What are you insinuating?
Guard: That you are the most selfish man I have ever come across
Ahasuerus: Me! You accuse…but you have no idea of the things that I have done in reparation. When I had money I gave to the poor; when I had food I fed the starving and went hungry myself. I have taken the place of the condemned in firing squads, rotted in dark prison holes to let others go free.
Guard: Reparation or bribery? For ages I have had you in my sub-conscious, whispering in my ear and now as I am about to be ripped from this world you continue to lecture me. What of you? Were those gifts truly given or did you have another agenda? Who did you feed, who were you trying to release? You were inside that gas chamber and yet did you really care about those without your miraculous survival powers or was it just another great disappointment to you?
If I’m dead what on earth are you? Why is it you cannot reconcile yourself to your own sin? You admit that given a second chance you would’ve still mocked Christ? It may have taken me five years and the imminent threat of death to have understood my sins but have you Ahasuerus, really appreciated yours after two thousand?
Ahasuerus: Yes, yes, I…Helpmann I have seen death before, many times. My preoccupation had made me oblivious to it. But what happened here wasn’t merely death, the quick bullet of a sniper, the glory of death on the battlefield or even the slow misery of an organ-eating cancer. This was engineered, calculated mercilessness, a production line of organised insensitive brutality. And I’ve spent a long time alone while every night that scene plays itself out in front of me in that wooded prison. Only this time I would’ve done something different, anything I could think of, to spare those poor people that death.
Guard: I wish someone would tell the Russians to spare me. Maybe you could.
Ahasuerus: I could try but I doubt they’d listen? If I knelt down and pleaded for your life would they understand? Actions, Helpmann, speak louder they say, but in this place they are screaming. I doubt if my simple words would be heard in all this chaos. But one thing is for sure it continues.
Guard: The chaos you mean?
Ahasuerus: Chaos, existence, being; call it what you will.
(Gets up to leave)
Guard: Where will you go?
Ahasuerus: I have no idea. The place is irrelevant.
Guard: Will there be others?
Ahasuerus: Other what?
Guard: Like this, you know…the war and the rest.
Ahasuerus: To be sure. I’m convinced of man’s inherently evil nature; that every baby is born envious, cruel, bigoted and hateful. Left to ourselves without education we seek only to feed ourselves, to clothe ourselves, to earn money for ourselves and defend what’s ours.
The lucky ones inherit the right parents, teachers and mentors who guide them to respect those with whom they co-exist. Imbued with this goodness they can override the basic instincts.
When we come under the spell of those who would subvert our decency we either embrace them and revert to our evil heritage or reject them, even if it means suffrage. But it does seem that once we accept morality it cannot be defeated by evil forever, it will re-emerge. It may haunt us, taunt us or rescue us and maybe that what’s called guilt.
But there must be something else, unique to human beings, planted in our psyche, something that you, yes you Helpmann, have made me come to realise. Once activated it is more powerful than any malevolence. It is capable of conquering wickedness wherever and whenever it crosses its path. It may be called soul or zeitgeist or something else but it elevates us to become something more than animal and it breeds a common friendship, a love for others. Every good man or woman that ever lived I ridiculed privately because evil would simply by-pass them and begin again elsewhere. But perhaps they serve as windows into our humanity, offering us a glimpse now and then of the only way in which we can combat the spread of evil.
This, Helpmann, is the end of my quest. I have been looking outward when I should have looked in. It was my own self that I have denied all this time. And it was you who illuminated my final road.
Guard: Then our soul can save us?
Ahasuerus: We can save us. We must all look within before we can begin looking up, out or beyond. Without doing so we are open vessels for those who preach enmity. They appeal directly to our innate nature, which is to do harm to one another. Even now, I suppose, someone somewhere has invented an even more powerful weapon to rob the breath from people he considers enemies but of whom he probably knows nothing.
I may even get a chance to test it.
Guard: So you do have the gift of prophecy?
Ahasuerus: No, just experience.
Guard: But if there were a God? If He was there and I prayed now, he would forgive me?
Ahasuerus: According to Christ, if you are truly sorry, yes.
Guard: I can be forgiven?
Ahasuerus: Consider this; your leader, who, when Europe was his, moved freely about these conquered lands and yet now he is probably cowering somewhere like the last King in the final chess game, completely surrounded by the opposition, watching as square by square the space constricts around him. If he were to go down on his knees and pray, even as the allies were beating down his door, and say that he was truly sorry for the millions of deaths he was responsible for, he would be saved. So you ask me if there is a God. I don’t even know if there is a Second Coming.
Guard: Then you were the greatest sinner?
Ahasuerus: Those that define these terms consider themselves to be sinless and guiltless, and yet history has proven those judges to be the most sinful and guilty of all. Is the whole of Germany guilty because of the alluring rhetoric of one bitter little man? Which nation will be next aggressor? Which have been its models? Guilt is in the eye of the beholder. How else could I have gotten into the camp?
Guard: I remember denying you entry, what was it – a lifetime ago? And here we stand again still separated by the same gate but one which I have now lost the power to open and close.
Ahasuerus: There are other keys.
Guard: But I am still scared.
Ahasuerus (Sympathetically): I know you are.
(The voice of a Russian Soldier is heard (off stage) and the German prisoners begin to assemble in a line)
Guard: I must go now. Goodbye Ahasuerus.
Ahasuerus: Goodbye Helpmann.
Guard: Ahasuerus, I think I'll take this brush with me (Picks it up) I'm going to sweep. It may work.
Ahasuerus: Maybe it will, after all.
(Helpmann turns away and Ahasuerus begins to walk slowly away stage right. Then Helpmann turns back)
Guard: Ahasuerus! Ahasuerus!
Ahasuerus (Comes back): Yes Helpmann.
Guard: Here, you may need these.
(Undoes his coat and takes what appears to be a pair of shoes tied together with string and hung around his neck)
Ahasuerus: My shoes! You found them.
Guard: Yes, well to be honest, I’ve had them all along. I never thought you’d really need them again, but it looks like the shoes on the other foot!
(They both chuckle sadly at the Guard’s joke. The Guard then looks lovingly at the shoes one last time and casts them over the gate)
They are such well-made shoes.
Ahasuerus: I told you so!
(Caresses them and then sits down and puts them on)
I am a craftsman
(Ahasuerus turns to go again and Helpmann watches him walk slowly toward stage right. He is nearly beyond his sight and Helpmann calls a last time)
Guard: Go faster.
Ahasuerus: I’m going.