`WE want to destroy the old basis of talking to each other and construct a new way," Israeli director David Maayan, Akko Theater Company's artistic chief, told a group of Berlin theatergoers. So moved were those who packed the room by what they had seen in "Arbeit Macht Frei," that they gathered, the day after the performance, to discuss it.
Later, Mr. Maayan, who devised and directed the show, explained to me what he meant by the "old basis" of Germans and Israelis relating to one another. Like most Israelis, his view of the German people, he notes, prior to this first-time trip with his troupe, was more than four decades out of date. "When I initially arrived here," he says, "I saw Germans in a black and white way, as a result of all the films, the [Holocaust] material, and the brainwashing we get daily from childhood. If someone in Israel , for example, drives a Volkswagen, it's not considered acceptable.... Now I am up to date. I know the German people. I know this black-and-white image is a myth."
But Germans, too, Maayan discovered, are equally guilty of erroneous perceptions of Israelis. Indeed, their shared traumatic history has left both sides with distorted images.
"Germans," says Maayan, "don't know that ... there is a very real and significant difference between being a Jew and being an Israeli."
Maayan goes on to explain that most Germans' concept of Israelis is filtered through the image of the gaunt Holocaust survivor. "Their sense is the Jew that they knew from the past," he continues. "The majority of Germans have never had a chance to meet today's generation of Israelis, in their vast variety, who are very independent-minded and often very critical of a lot of things in Israeli society."
Much of the power of "Arbeit Macht Frei" lies in the ring of truth in its many contemporary comments and observations. Maayan believes this comes from his unconventional method: Rather than a detailed script, he merely gave his actors the basic sequence of events, and they provided the rest. But this is not improvisation. Every sentence uttered during the performance, insists Maayan, had to have been actually said or written by someone. The nearly five-hour show is, then, an accretion of quotes - from ea vesdropping, from newspapers, from interviews on television, from audience members during past performances - both in Israel and Germany.