Block 11 was situated in the main camp at Auschwitz l (Stammlager). It was in essence a prison within a prison. It was situated at the end of the row of blocks that numbered 1 - 11. Between Block 10 and Block 11 the courtyard was enclosed behind a high wall. The windows of Block 10 thaThe idea for Crucifixion came from reading one page of a book. Badac were looking to produce a play about religious persecution and also to produce a second play about the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The page in the book referred to an SS officer named Wilhelm Boger and his torture machine the so called "Boger Swing".
Boger worked for the Political Section in Block 11 at the main Auschwitz camp. His job was to extract information from prisoners using any means he could think of. After reading the description of "The Swing" and of Boger's legendary brutality we realised that if we were aiming to show the pain and suffering that people who are tortured have to endure then this was the perfect mechanism and person to use.
As mentioned above we wanted to explore religious persecution in particular. To do this we had to find a victim and who better than the new Christ, probably the most famous victim of persecution in the history of mankind. So we decided to pit Christ against the Nazi's, to explore the battle between faith and ideology, through the torture of one individual. Without doubt the most difficult part of the project was "The Swing". A lot of research was done to discover exactly how it worked. Once we had worked out its practical details we then had to build it. Eventually this was achieved and we then had to find an actor who would be willing to get on it! The actor would have to be strapped to it for over an hour being spun and Beaten, we finally decided on using the writer!
Crucifixion opened at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August of 2000. It received excellent reviews from the critics and normally created a stunned silence from the audience. It is a very brutal and harrowing piece but then torture is very brutal and harrowing.
Badac's aim during the project was not to shock but to give an audience an insight into what thousands of people still suffer today, simply because of their religious beliefs. Hopefully this is what we achieved.
Crucifixion now tours various venues around Great Britain.
The Police Summary Court
Block 11 was situated in the main camp at Auschwitz l (Stammlager). It was in essence a prison within a prison. It was situated at the end of the row of blocks that numbered 1 - 11. Between Block 10 and Block 11 the courtyard was enclosed behind a high wall. The windows of Block 10 that faced into the courtyard were boarded up, this was stop the prisoners in Block 10 witnessing the executions taking place in front of the so called "Wall of Death".
The executions at The Wall of Death were usually the result of the findings of "The Police Summary Court" which although based in Kattowitz held court sessions in Block 11 once or twice a month.
The Summary Court passed sentences, mainly on Polish prisoners, who were found guilty of either political or criminal offences. These crimes included being a member of the Polish resistance and black marketeering.
The ground floor in Block 11 was reserved by the State Police to house these prisoners and for the court to sit in session. Most of the prisoners had been bought from the police prison in Myslowitz.
The prisoners who were to stand trial had already been interrogated and had given their evidence whilst in prison in Myslowitz, then they had been taken to Block 11 to await sentence.
The court session itself would be headed by Dr Rudolf Mildner who was the High State Councillor (Oberregierungsrat), The Chief of the State Police and presiding judge of the summary court.
Each session of the court would last between two and three hours, in that time the court would sentence anything between a few dozen to over a hundred prisoners to death. The prisoners would be held in adjoining rooms, their files would be held by the criminal court secretary, the session would be opened by Dr Mildner and the court secretary would call the first prisoners name, this would be repeated by the SS guard in the doorway to a clerk in the corridor who would then find the prisoner and take him or her into the courtroom where Dr Mildner would read out the guilty verdict in the particular persons case before pronouncing sentence, this was usually done with the line "The Police Summary Court of the State Police in Kattowitz pronounces the death sentence." All this took about a minute.
After the sentence was pronounced the prisoner would be taken to the lavatory that was on the ground floor and told to strip. The prisoner would wait here until the court session was over, then all the condemned would be taken into the yard between Block 10 and Block 11 and there, in front of Dr Mildner and his subordinates, would be shot in front of the Wall of Death. The shooting would be carried out either by the reporting officer, a prison warder or one of the functionaries of the Political Section. One of the main executioners of Block 11 was Rapportfuhrer Gerhard Palitzsch.
Once in the yard the prisoners would be bought to the wall, normally in pairs, and be made to face the wall itself, the executioner would then shoot them in the back of the head with a small calibre gun, when they had fallen he would check that they were dead, if there was any sign of life he would then fire a second shot into their forehead.
Once the prisoners were definitely dead members of the so called "cleaning squad" would come forward and remove the bodies. When the executions had been completed the bodies were disposed of in Crematorium l in the Auschwitz main camp and other members of the cleaning squad would lay fresh sand in front of the wall to soak up the pools of blood.
The Bunkers were the name given to the cells in Block 11 which were located underground in the cellar.
These underground cells were used for both camp prisoners and local civilians who were suspected of having contact with the inmates or of helping them to escape.
Most of the twenty two cells in the cellar were used to hold the prisoners while "enquiries" were made into their criminal activities. Some of the cells however were used for "special purposes".
Cell 18 was a starvation cell. A sentence of death by starvation would be given to an inmate, for example, if a comrade of the inmate had escaped. Cell 20 was a dark cell. This cell was completely sealed, so that there was no light or air, this of course meant that death by suffocation was not unusual in this particular cell.
Cell 22 contained the standing cells. There were four of these standing cells, each one measuring about 1 sq. yard (90cm x 90cm). Each of the standing cells, which were brick built from the floor to the ceiling, had a metal grate at floor level. Prisoners who had been sentenced to the standing cells had to crawl through the grate into the actual cell itself. Once inside the prisoner would be in complete darkness, each cell usually held four prisoners at a time. That's four people in a square shaped chimney that is about 1 sq. yard in size.
The standing cells were sometimes used as part of the death by starvation sentence, they were also used as a "special punishment" for those being interrogated.
Most of the prisoners held in the bunkers were held there by the Political Section of the camp authorities, the head of the Political Section was SS - Untersturmfuhrer Max Grabner. It was Grabner who coined the phrase "dusting out the bunker". The prisoners called it "cleaning out" or "emptying" the bunker.
What this meant was that every Saturday morning Grabner would hold a briefing of all the desk officers and clerks of the Political Section, after the briefing all the officers would move to Block 11, there they would be joined by the camp leader SS - Hauptsturmfuhrer Aumeier, he would be accompanied by a reporting officer, an SS doctor and a few Block leaders, once the entourage was complete they made their way down to the cellar where a warder proceeded to open the cell doors.
Once the door was open the prisoners were made to stand, then each one would be ordered to state his name and how long he or she had been in prison, Aumeier would then ask the reporting officer what the inmates crime had been, if it transpired that the prisoner had been arrested by Section ll, that is the Political Section, it meant that they fell within Grabner's jurisdiction.
At this point Grabner and Aumeier would confer and then announce their decision. That decision was either penal report 1 or penal report 2.
Penal report 1 meant that the prisoner was either going to flogged or maybe sent to the penal company (Strafkompanie).
Penal report 2 meant death.
Once this procedure had been completed in all the cells in the bunker the prisoners were separated, those on penal report 1 would be taken back into the camp to face their punishment, those on penal report 2 would be taken to the ground floor lavatory and told to strip, meanwhile Grabner, Aumeier and some SS officers would make their way to the yard, the prisoners would then be led out and executed at the Wall of Death in the same way as the Security Police victims were killed.
After the executions where completed Grabner would consider the bunker "dusted" or "cleaned" for another week. Most of the executions in the yard of Block 11 were carried out by shooting, however sometimes the condemned would be hung. This would be done on two transportable gallows which could be used to hang 12 people at a time. Also in the yard were four posts, these were used for a punishment known as "hanging from the stake". This entailed the prisoners having their hands tied behind their backs and being hung from the posts by them. This form of punishment was extremely painful, as the prisoners own body weight would pull them towards the ground, at the same time breaking his or hers shoulders.
Lambert's study of the tortures of Auschwitz has produced an allegorical sequel to last year's Ashes to Ashes that also has Dan Robb quoting from the scriptures in a way that immediately recalls Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, while the restrained vocabulary of violence seems more like Guy Ritchie's gangland.
It is relentless, but that is rather the point. While Irvine Welsh's You'll Have Had Your Hole explored a similar scenario with the focus entirely on the pointless selfishness of personal politics and ended up being merely risible, Lambert draws harrowing parallels over 2000 years. Compelling, but not for the faint-hearted. The tirade reduced the audience to stunned silence.
Crucifixion is set in Auschwitz. A second Christ, Yehoshua, born of Jewish parents but not himself a Jew, has been captured and is now being "crucified" on a "machine" inspired by the cross itself. The victim is strapped to a bar, a scaffold pole mounted on a platform. Yehoshua (the writer Steve Lambert) is impaled there and spun around like a horrible whirligig.
The endless blows applied by the torturer, Boger, the machine's inventor are represented by ear-splitting blows struck remorselessly on a metal sheet by a wooden baton. But torture is not just about physical pain, just as conquest is not about land. The Nazis have Europe, but must now win the more important battle - for the soul, the spirit. In that war, the key enemy is Christianity, and victory will be the death of the old faith and the birth of the new. Now commences the trial of Christ in our times.
Yehoshua has another tortuerer - Kremar, whose target is Yehoshua's mind and spirit, his faith and vocation. Like all good inquisitors, Kremar knows his victim. The play becomes a remorseless arguement, with Kremar administering as many ruthless mental blows to his prisoner as his fertile imagination can muster.
It seems almost redundant to talk of acting: from all three actors there is nothing short of total commitment. The play itself becomes torture to sit through, but this black experience is something to which any serious theatre-goer should submit.
At the end of the hour, there was no curtain call, no change in lighting; the doors to the tiny theatre were quietly opened. An actor remained, whimpering, lashed to the infernal machine onstage as he had been when we arrived. One member of the audience clapped, tentatively, twice, but for the most part we sat then filed out in silence. This was clearly the desired response. Like The Riot Group's The Zero Yard, Badac Theatre Company's production is intense Theatre-of-Cruelty material. If it succeeds more palpably, it is because this production demands audience complicity in its unremitting brutality.
It is our function, we are told directly, to bear witness to the torture in Auschwitz's Block 11 of Yehoshua, who claims to be the returned Messiah. Two SS officers (in black T-shirts and matching combat pants) – not so much good cop/bad cop as smooth cop/rough cop – set about making him deny his God. A metal sheet upstage is deafeningly battered to symbolise the beatings of Yehoshua.
English poetry and scriptural verse is quoted at the victim in rebuttal of his faith. The argument is simple but not simplistic, although it strikes one as strange that a regime should identify itself with evil as explicitly and repeatedly as these two officers do. In the words of Dysart in Shaffer's Equus (to which this play bears no other connection), the extremity is the point here. There is no moral debate, simply the stark, remorseless point that anyone can be broken.
What kind of God ignores the urgent prayers of the afflicted? Surely, God was absent in Auschwitz? A dedicated cast, of two torturers and an alleged messiah, shows how persecution and merciless brutality can eventually crush the faith and spirit of any modern-day son of God and those who follow him. Bold characterisation, a sparing yet effective stage-set and the focus of the actors make this a livid and intense experience that explores the role of God and 'higher beliefs' in the face of intense trial and suffering.
|British Theatre Guide|
One of the outstanding shows at last year's Fringe was Steve Lambert's first play Ashes to Ashes, a very moving piece about the Holocaust. This year Badac has returned with Lambert's second play, Crucifixion. In Crucifixion, Yehoshua (Steve Lambert), a Christ figure, is tortured physically and mentally to force him to deny and curse God. He is strapped to a machine, a kind of spit on which he revolves whilst being beaten or having his legs broken.
The play is relentless in its horror and savagery. As the audience walk in, they see Yehoshua already strapped to the machine, keeping up his courage by reciting scripture. He is clearly suffering agony, and yet this is the "quiet" moment of the play. There are two torturers and two kinds of torture, the physical and the mental. The physical is brutal and vicious, the mental insidious and brutal. This is not a play for the squeamish. It batters at the audience's sensibilities as Yehoshua is battered physically. And it never stops.
At the end the audience simply did not know what to do. Should it applaud? There were scattered claps which died away. Most simply left in silence. Perhaps it is too relentless, too much of an assault on the senses. Perhaps some light and shade may have enhanced its effectiveness. But then again, perhaps not. The "Scotsman" gave it five stars: my uncertainty makes me hestitate - four and a half may seem ungracious, but I just have this lingering doubt. Still, whether it's five or four and a half, this is a play not to be missed, for sheer emotional power and excellent performances - and Steve Lambert's physical stamina and endurance!
Who would write a part for himself in a play if it involved spending more than an hour strapped to a spit, being spun around, having a barbed-wire crown of thorns forced on to his head, having his legs pounded with a wooden stick, and being spat on and yelled at by two gangsters in black who insisted he was a 'fucking Jew cunt'? Steve Lambert, that's who, whose self-composed, self-directed play Crucifixion is stunning audiences into silence at the Hill Street Theatre in Edinburgh. Crucifixion tells the story of Yehoshua, the second coming born to Jewish parents in France, who ends up in Auschwitz during the Second World War.
He is interrogated by two Nazi officers: Boger, a menacing, violent anti-Semite with a smoky cockney accent (played by Ben Read, who puts Guy Ritchie's cliched gangsters to shame), who wants to 'kill the Jew cunt and his cunting God'; and Kremar, a calm, manipulative Nazi, who is more interested in destroying Yehoshua's spirit than his body (played by Dan Robb who, when he isn't playing nasty Nazis in tiny theatres in Edinburgh, has starred in such kid's films as The Borrowers).
Boger and Kremar spend the whole hour that the play lasts torturing Yehoshua relentlessly and gratutitously, forcing him to renounce his God so that the Nazis can become the ultimate authority in the eyes of the people rather than some fanciful notion of a 'cunting heavenly father'. When you enter the tiny studio theatre, you are made to feel uncomfortable from the start. Yehoshua (Lambert) is already strapped to the crude metal spit, in an extremely awkward-looking position, his hands tucked behind his knees to hold himself up, and is chanting to his God as the audience take their seats. Before long the Nazi officers appear and for the next hour the audience sits through something truly disturbing - an intimate observation of a man being crushed through physical and mental torture.
The theatre is so small, every crack of wood on metal so loud, and Lambert's burning, sweating face as he is reduced to a quivering wreck so convincing, that the audience feels complicit in his torture. This feeling is intensified by Kremar, who refers to the audience as 'ladies and gentlemen' and reminds us that 'we' are gathered here today to witness the destruction of Christ. At the end of the play, the two officers leave, and Lambert remains on the spit pathetically mumbling to himself - the audience is unsure whether the play is over, claps uneasily, and leaves. I had the feeling I was leaving a torture chamber, not a theatre. I hate it when TV programmes say 'Some viewers may find certain scenes disturbing'. But this is one production which deserves such a rider. The basic and crude set, the actors' stunningly violent performances, and the expletive-laden dialogue help to make this one of the most disturbing, and original, plays you are likely to see at the Fringe festival.
No shows booked at time of print
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