I have been to the big city called Philadelphia, but I did not have the good fortune to visit it on the night of March 19, 1934, when the Theatre Guild there produced the English version of the Ferdinand Bruckner drama, “Races,” published since in book form by Alfred A. Knopf. I cannot therefore tell whether this work produces well, but I can say (without fear of successful contradiction, that it reads well and, at times, thrillingly.
The place is a German university town; the time, March and April of 1933. There are two fields of action, the physical and the spiritual. The play is crowded with evidences of significant conflict. On the field of physical action we see, for example, the student Siegelmann badly mistreated, but the beating up of a Jewish studentâ€”only barely suggested on the stageâ€”achieves its significance through the student’s own inner conflict to stand up, as a symbol of his race, against the martyrdom which he would, personally, avoid.
But the case of this student is incidental and more in the nature of a dramatic footnote to the core of the drama, in which are concerned chiefly Karlanner, an “Aryan” student who is love with a Jewess who has regenerated him; the Jewess herself, Helene Marx, against whom Karlanner seems to turn under the stress of Germanic emotion; Tessow, a fellow-student, who helps bring Karlanner around, and Rosloh, the very stupid and very Nazi student who, becoming the leader of the student body in “the national awakening,” takes the reins and lords it over his betters.
The physical denouement of the play is painful enough, but the chief beauty of “Races” arises from the spiritual declaration of independence made finally by Karlanner, upon whom Rosloh has set the humiliating tasks of hunting down the woman he loved, and still loves, the Jewess.
To those readers who are especially interested in the varieties of Jewish feeling possible in Germany, I commend a reading, even by itself, of the sixth scene of the play, wherein Marx, the father of Helene and a rich industrialist, pleads with his daughter not to be concerned about the poor Jews, tradesmen and students, who happen to get under the heels of Storm Troopers. But she refuses not to be concerned about fellow-Jews, while he implores her to come under the wing of his influence by keeping a civil tongue in her head about the “atrocities.” He has written 5,000 letters to Jews throughout the world denying what the Nazis called the atrocity rumors and has thus achieved a little contemptuous tolerance for himself from the powers that be. In the end Helene makes good her escape from Germany, after her father has washed his hands of her, while her lover, at first a fugitive, yields himself to the Roslohs for their vengeance.
The play is straightforward drama, except for the intrusion of such vices as voices without bodies speaking words of courage to such as Siegelmann and Karlanner in moments of great spiritual crises; inner voices they may be called.