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Natan Rotenberg, "Peace to the People of Good Will"

Rotenberg, N., play 1942
Courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Israel

The Łódź ghetto was the second largest ghetto in German-occupied Poland. Łódź was a major industrial center, and Nazi authorites forced the Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto to work for them in the city's factories. Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the controversial leader of the Jewish ghetto administration, or Judenrat, mistakenly believed that the ghetto's productivity could secure its survival.1 In summer 1944, however, German authorities deported the surviving residents of the Łódź ghetto to Chełmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau.2

The play featured here comes from the Łódź ghetto diary of a teenager named Natan Rotenberg. His "diary" consists of a collection of poems, short stories, and plays composed between 1942 and 1944. The play featured here is set in an imagined universe that reflects Rotenberg's struggle to make sense of the incomprehensible chaos and violence that he was experiencing. Barbed wire fences, scattered bodies, and flying shrapnel form the backdrop and evoke a sense of impending doom. Rotenberg transforms Peace, War, Death, and Murder into mythical figures that set the scene. In his play, members of warring nations are mirror images of their enemies. Rotenberg's commentary on the hypocrisy and futility of war in these pages is brief but powerful.

The play's highly imaginative beginning is cut short, however, as only three pages of the first act are preserved in the notebook. Rotenberg's last entries coincide with the final waves of deportations from the Łódź ghetto in summer 1944. The details of his fate are unknown.

For more information on the Jewish Councils more generally, see Isaiah Trunk, Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under Nazi Occupation (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972).

For an authoritative history on the Łódź ghetto, see Isaiah Trunk, trans. Robert Moses Shapiro, Łódź Ghetto: A History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press in Association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2006).

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N. Rotenberg

Peace to People of Good Will

A Drama in Five Acts

L.[itzmannstadt] Getto

[19]44

[41]

Screenplay

Act I, Scene I. Characters.

Jean Valo, an adjutant of the General Staff of the Kingdom of Paflonia
Orderly officer
Johan Vallö, a private in the Republic of Utopia
Lizeta, the wife of Jean Valo
Lizelota, the wife of Johan Vallö 
Pierre, Jean's son
Peter, Joha's son
Leon, Lizeta's lover
soldiers, civilians
War and Peace, two mythical figures

[39]

Act I, Scene I

Peace turns toward the public. The scene is dark.
What a terrible storm blows over the village—
Great flakes of snow have covered the sky and whitened the earth— 
Brother Unknown, do you see these flames, those gushes of fire and steel?
That horrible rain of stone? That hell on earth? That Death inside a terrible chariot
With his companion, War, and his brother, Murder, flying over the fields?
And you? You are sitting there in your cozy home and you speak of honor.
Streams of fire pour in the face of the people, and you speak of fulfilled duty.
Oh, Brother Unknown, how I understand you.

(Canons start to fire, the music rises and flashes of light appear)

And now, if you have the courage, cross over. You don't have to make a breach, because there is barbed wire here,
Because you will trip over bodies every few hundred of meters. Do you see the light flickering amid the Snow flames of the storm? Slither, crawl and crouch down. No, it's nothing, it's shrapnel,
Onward and onward. Brother Unknown, you are already lying underneath the window. Look through the window. Quietly. 
How nice and warm and cozy it is here. A map hangs on the wall. The stove is red-hot.
A flag. The sun against a sky-blue background. Seize the flag of your enemy! The flag of Paflonia. 
But you are here. What, are you not a Utopian? Ah, you are a Brother Unknown— 
Good. But do you hear what they are saying inside? Tilt your ear. Well, do you hear?

(The scene darkens, as before nightfall)

The orderly officer sighs

My God, my god. Today is Christmas [lit. the Birth of God], and we are here. 
A warm Christmas tree in the house. Oh my God.

Jean Valo

Stop it. My head is bursting. I'm suffocating. How could you [illegible] at home. Hahaha, the Birth of God. It seems to me that rather the devil was born [illegible]. There is so much grief in me that I could murder someone, ah—

Orderly officer

You're talking foolishness. You are sleep-deprived and that is all. Please.

He bends over his receiver, a private walks in with a message.

Sir, I'd like to report that a message has arrived, from the other side. From Utopia. It was sent over the radio. Here.

[43]

He died. Some saliva flowed out of his mouth.
His face yellowed, hardened and became empty.
Someone's (maybe mine) terrible scream could be heard
And pushed me into a strange sort of madness.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Israel
RG Number RG 68.112M
Date Created
1942 to 1944
Author / Creator
Rotenberg, Natan
Language(s)
Polish
Location
Łódź, Poland
Document Type Play
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