It’s difficult enough to summarise the whole life of any person, let alone a man who accomplished so much. Simon Wiesenthal had an extraordinary life – having survived the Holocaust, devoted the rest of his life to tracking down Nazi war criminals that can be brought to justice. Wiesenthal is an important and moving tribute to a remarkable man’s life, his legacy, and the message he devoted his life to spreading – always remember.
We meet Simon Wiesenthal in his office on his last day. His current and last task is to track down one of the architects of the Holocaust, Alois Brunner, and he thinks he has pinned down the building where he lives. As he awaits a call back from the desk clerk, he speaks to the guests visiting the office (the audience), and reflects on his whole life, including his experience in concentration camps, meeting his wife and his decision to remain in Austria whilst they moved to Israel, and the stories of tracking down Adolf Eichmann and Franz Stangi.
The performer Christopher C Gibbs is a compelling Wiesenthal, who carefully switches between a kindly avuncular old man to a ruthless and fearless Nazi hunter. We see the glint in his eye when he discusses bringing Nazis to justice, and the turmoil when he talks about retirement and the responsibilities of his personal life.
Wiesenthal also provides the fascinating perspective of shame as the driving force of fascism and the desire to find a racial scapegoat for the problems of the country, in this case, the shame of Germany after the First World War. Equally provocatively, Wiesenthal reflects on Eichmann as ‘just a man following orders’ and that therefore the capacity for evil acts exists in everyone. The play deftly handles its politics as well as it’s more personal moments, such as the story of the relationship with his wife.
Challenging, moving and fascinating, Wiesenthal provides a valuable look at an important figure of the 20th century. A recurring theme in the play is how Wiesenthal approves of drama as a means to educate and personalise the story of the Holocaust, such as the films about his life and productions of Anne Frank’s diary. I have a feeling he’d be very happy with this play too.