The Mitzvah

The Mitzvah is a one-person, one-act play—part of The Mitzvah Project, which includes a lecture and audience discussion. Half-Jew, Christophe Rosenburg, a decorated officer, and hardened killer, is serving in Hitler's army. He is dying and in a delirium. As his life is slipping away, he fantasizes about killing The Führer in a lethal replay of a moment a few years before when he stood with hundreds of soldiers and officers in a square in Berlin delivering an oath of allegiance to Hitler. The Chorus interjects and replies to Christoph's dream in an extended sardonic riff about "the hand"—that Christoph's fantasy is a ridiculous fiction; that Christoph's hand, rather than being the instrument that delivered the world from the nightmare of Hitler, is the Nazi hand that murdered uncounted millions of innocent lives. The scene shifts and the character changes from the Chorus to Schmuel Berkowicz, a poor Jew from Bialystok who finds himself on the train platform in Auschwitz where he is selected to work in the "Krankenbau"—the infirmary—which, as Schmuel learns, "is more like a mortuary." He recounts how he first meets a large, blonde-haired prisoner who, but a few months earlier, was a decorated war hero. It is Christoph Rosenberg, who has been severely beaten and is now, like Schmuel, a prisoner. We learn that Christoph has been brought to Auschwitz because he turned on the Germans, in a field outside of Bialystok, where he shot and killed a SS Captain, to stop the slaughter of local Jews. The Chorus fills in the background about Christoph, i.e., that he is a half-Jew who was able to stay in the German army only by obtaining a special exemption personally from Hitler. But, upon seeing the brutalization of a young woman and her baby by the SS, Christoph realizes that the blood flowing in the trench is the same blood that's flowing in his veins. To put an end to her suffering at the hands of the SS, Christoph first kills the young Jewish mother, and then turns the gun on the SS Captain. At the end of the play, in the same way that Christoph ended the life of the young mother, Schmuel puts an end to Christoph's suffering by suffocating him "with a rag—the rag he used to cleanse—in the infirmary that is more like a mortuary." At the end of the play, Schmuel says Kaddish over the body of Christoph draped Pieta-like on his lap.
Format: Solo drama, one-act
Cast Size:1M
Running Time: 25-minute play; 27-minute lecture; 30–40-minute audience discussion led by Roger Grunwald.


Original or Prominent Production:
Presented at numerous universities in the U.S. and U.K.
Nationality of Author: U.S.
Original Language: English
Production Rights Holder:

Co-authors: Roger Grunwald and Annie McGreevey

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