The Affirmation of the Negation

Der Standard (02/15/05)

Anton Gugg

Joshua Sobol’s "Eyewitness - The Case of Jägerstätter," playing at the Linzer Landestheater, puts the martyrdom of a resistance fighter into sober perspective: An impressive evening about the power of saying no.

Linz - On time for the national year of remembrance, the Linzer Landestheater places its finger on one of the open legal and moral wounds in the consciousness of the native republic. In the play, The Case of Jägerstätter, the failures of coming to terms with the so-called deserters of the Nazi regime is coming to the surface; failures and inconsistencies in post-war jurisdiction and in the church, and also contradictions in the so-called healthy feelings of the people.

Are the conscientious objectors of today and of tomorrow’s politics of injustice nothing other than criminals or, on the contrary, saints? The Israeli dramatist, Joshua Sobol, asked these highly unpleasant, almost heretical questions in his play, The Case of Jägerstätter, performing before the Palestinian background of his home country and now playing for the first time in Austria.

In the short, and in every respect, calm and sober version of the stage director, Christian Wittmann, and script advisor, Brigitte Heusinger, Sobol’s intention to create an anti-documentary "martyrologium" of sorts comes through very clearly. Nonetheless, the simple son of St. Radegrund, with all his human weaknesses, is judged as the holiest of purest waters but behaves, nonetheless, as none other than the preceding cohorts of the heavenly.

He says "no" without consideration of himself or others. Like all the rest, he bears no tricks of the life saving self-betrayal at the altar of the worshipped, and be it only the symbolic gesture of putting on a uniform. Sobol uses simple and precise language to characterize the hero and his "being different" from everybody else. His Case of Jägerstätter has nothing to do with turning resistance into heroism or realistic contemporary theatre.

Franz Jägerstätter takes aback the people around him, as for example, a Catholic soul mate, because he, as a simple eyewitness from the countryside, has faith in his senses and is not willing to make the least amount of compromise with the unjust regime and their bloodhounds.

Disapproval of the Masses
Such radical figures always had to be eliminated and have always stirred up the disapproval of the pliable masses. Appearances of this kind become the trauma of all fraternities and brotherhoods, such as one can find also today in considerable numbers. The "no" to any kind of embrace makes for loneliness - and also that is what the Linzer performance demonstrates so impressively.

The actor Joachim Rathke and his imaginary quintet of threatening personalities involved with execution machinery move in a minimalistic cubic space out of neon bulbs.

Plays and productions such as this one oppress by insisting on the essentials - through an austerity which lets us forget the staging orgies at larger city theatres. The intended beatification of a "questionable" historical figure will show how strong the shadows of the past still are today.