By Elise Emmert
I went to “Meeting in Munich” by Paul Patton knowing only that it was a discussion between church members about whether or not they should listen to the Fuhrer and reform their youth groups to Hitler Youth. But it was so much more than that.
There was more at stake in the church in Munich than the fate of their youth group. It’s a boiling point where congregants on both sides of the issue come together and clash, fighting each other on which outlook, which way of living, is objectively right.
I watched friends in period clothing, some pleading with others for the right to raise their children in the church without the state as their watchdog, and others in SS uniforms with swastika bands around their arms raising their hands to perform the Hitler salute and commending the Fuhrer for his dedication to building Germany up on the church.
These actors sat among the audience members, and it made the conflict and history feel so much more present than it does when reading a textbook about what led to the second world war and the horrors that happened in Germany. The actors walked beside my chair and cried out their beliefs at each other, dealing with core values that would make or break Germany’s future in WWII. They have no idea what’s coming.
And it made me sob.
I cried for the fact that this happened – that anti-Semitic sentiments were rationalized, that a country was so torn and desperate that something like Nazism could rear its ugly head, that so many people lost their lives in such horrible ways because of hate and the belief that Hitler had the plan to make everything right again, to bring the country back to its former glory.
It’s difficult to identify the most heart-wrenching moment in the play, but one in particular rises above the many: when Margaret Lubosch (played by Erin Couch) says the hate being spread will put rocks in the hands of the children. In response to the Hitler supporters’ laughter, she asks her young daughter, Eva (played by Emma Brugger), to tell the congregation what has been happening at school. And Eva, in a trembling voice, rattles off the names of children in the class who aren’t allowed to talk to the others, who are pulled to the front of class and ridiculed for their mistakes, and who are afraid to go to recess because they are being spit on.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Confederate flag posters with cotton buds were posted around the American University campus last week. The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which many state leaders condemned as a “white supremacist” meeting, ended with one civilian killed and many others injured. An improvised explosive device was set off at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota.
Hate is festering, and people are acting on it. It could lead us down a very dangerous path if we choose to forget how situations can escalate from a small spark to an engulfing blaze if they are not stopped before they run beyond control.
It’s easy for us to look back on history and say we would have been on the right side; we would have stood for justice even in the face of death. But history is not simply the past. It is our present. Every second that passes becomes the history that our children and grandchildren will read about. If we do not do something about this hate, future generations may have the opportunity to ask of us: Why didn’t they do something? Didn’t they know that was wrong?
I have heard it said that theater is not done to make us forget or escape the world outside, but to help us remember it. In “Meeting in Munich,” we remember the past – we remember the hatred and divisiveness that tore apart this church and its country – but we also remember the present. And I weep for both.