Emil’s Enemies

Emil’s Enemies

BY DOUGLAS HUFF
Emil’s Enemies is a play inspired by the actions of the German opposition to the Third Reich during World War II. That story of resistance is a story of extraordinary conviction and courage under impossible conditions and against incredible odds. It is also a story made even more exceptional by the participation of a Lutheran theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who, in spite of his pacifism, joined a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime. Although the German resistance to National Socialism included dozens of men and women, both inside and outside of the military, three figures in German Military Intelligence were central to every attempt at a coup d’etat between 1938 and 1944: Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, General Hans Oster and Hans von Dohnanyi, plot leader and brother-in-law to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All four were executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945. Other members of the Bonhoeffer family were also executed for playing a part in the conspiracy. Bonhoeffer’s elder brother Klaus, and a second brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher, were executed on April 23, 1945. Seven days later Hitler committed suicide. Bonhoeffer was formulating the ethical basis for when the performance of certain extreme actions, such as political assassination, were required of a morally responsible person. This combination of action and thought qualifies as one of the unique moments in intellectual history. EMIL’S ENEMIES stays as close to the spirit of the time as possible, but is not written as an historical drama. Many things in the play, and this production, are drawn from history. The "Emil" of the title is the actual nickname used by the resistance for Hitler. Nonetheless, the playwright took certain liberties with characterization and the sequence of historical events, sometimes reducing the actions of many people to one character, sometimes by adding characters and events. This was clearly done for the sake of poetic unity. As Goethe noted, "Without poetic unity there is nothing in drama, nothing of importance to illusions on the stage, nothing of any concern to anyone." - Douglas Huff The character of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Huff’s play is at once intriguing and disturbing in that he does not appear like one of the traditional heroes of tragedy or melodrama. The historical Bonhoeffer appeared to many of his contemporaries to be a saint - a proper hero/victim - a good man who, in the face of utter evil, made all the right choices, suffering the consequences without regret. This was the Bonhoeffer who could write from prison, "My life ...has been an uninterrupted enrichment of experience"; the man who won the admiration of fellow prisoners and guards; the Christian martyr who, according to the camp doctor, "climbed the steps to the gallows, brave, composed ...entirely submissive to the will of God," This is not - at least on the surface - Huff"s Bonhoeffer. This one becomes angry and accusatory. he even seems to struggle to find even the consolations of his religion. This is a Bonhoeffer who not only sees that the "sins of weakness - stupidity, lack of independence, forgetfulness, cowardice, vanity, corruptibility - are the really human sins - a greater danger than evil," but who also discovers those sins in himself. If Huff’s Bonhoeffer doesn’t die as gracefully as we might wish, nevertheless he dies for the right reason. Martyrdom is, for him, a role earned, not received; faith is a gift recovered from the depths of despair, in a ritual of forgiveness. - Robert Gardner EMIL" S ENEMIES received its premiere at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, under the direction of Robert Gardner. It was seen in a New York production in 2001 at Theatre M, under the English director, Julia Carey; in 2003 it was produced by Vijay Padaki in Bangalore, India under the direction of the legendary stage and film director MS Sathyu; and more recently it was brought to the English stage by Dr. Bernd Wannenwetsch for the 2006 International Bonhoeffer Conference held at Oxford University. Douglas Huff"s plays have been performed all over the U.S. and internationally. His works include Ophelia (produced at THEATERWORK in its 9th Season); Hungry Ghosts ,and The Blind Venetian. His play The Far Shore was awarded the 2009 Mario Fratti/Newman Award; and Jean Paul Savage and the Reichenbach Fall, the National Gilmore Creek Playwriting Award.

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