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Way To Heaven (German: Himmelweg) is a 2004 play by the award-winning Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga.

The play is about a notorious incident in 1944 in which a delegation from the international Red Crossmarker visited the Theresienstadt concentration campmarker and were duped by the Nazi camp officials into reporting to the world that conditions were good and that they saw no evidence to support reports of mass murder.

Plot summary

According to the New York Times, the play has five sections. It opens with a monologue by the Red Cross inspector. Next we see the series of tableaux concocted by the Nazis to dupe the Red Cross, such as a small girl at play teaching her doll to swim. In the third scene the Camp Commandant graciously receives the Red Cross visitor (in real life there was a Commission with several members, in the play this is represented by a single Red Cross Delegate.) “The world," the commandant tells the Red Cross representative, "is moving toward unity.” Next, we see the Commandant bullying a Jewish prisoner called Gershom Gottfried into producing an opera for the Red Cross visitors. In the final scene, Gottfried urges his terrified players to “focus on their words and gestures” on the piece of theatre they are producing and to ignore the daily trains taking prisoners from Theresienstadt to what the audience knows and the prisoners fear are death camps. “If we do it well,” he tells a frightened young performer, “we’ll see Mummy again, on one of those trains.”

Public response

The Independent calls Way to Heaven a "a compelling, cunningly constructed play."

nytheatre.com called Way to Heaven "extremely intelligent and surprisingly evenhanded" in its treatment of the Nazi perpetrators, duped Red Cross commissioners, and Jewish victims.

The New York Times calls it a "spare, elegant work."

Historical references

There actually was a Theresienstadt Children's Opera, composed of Jewish children transported to the concentration camp from an orphanage in Praguemarker, and they did perform for the Red Cross Commissioners.

The Germans admitted the Red Cross Commission to the camp at Theresienstadt under pressure from the government of Denmarkmarker, which demanded that the Red Cross investigate reports that its deported Jewish citizens were being murdered. The Germans stalled as long as they could, before agreeing to permit the visit in order to insure the continued docility of their Danish subjects working in war production factories. Shortly before the visit, 7,503 people were deported to the death camp at Auschwitzmarker to eliminate overcrowding. Theresienstadt was then carefully staged so that the Red Cross visitors saw newly planted flower gardens and freshly painted houses.

The visit to Theresienstadt was only one piece of an accumulating body of information on the reality of the Holocaust reaching the Red Cross by 1944. What historians consider significant is that despite the amount of evidence already in hand, the Red Cross issued a 15-page report on the Theresienstadt camp that failed to raise the question of whether premeditated mass murder was taking place in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The word Himmelweg (German for path or way to Heaven) was the term used alternately with schlauch (German for hose or tube) at the Nazi death camps to denote the path into the gas chambers.

Production history

The play premiered at London's Royal Court Theatremarker in 2005.

According to the New York Times, the play has been "a hit in Europe and South America."

The play was produced by Equilicuá Producciones in New York Citymarker in 2009.

The play has been produced world-wide, including London, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires and, most recently, New York.

References


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