There are three questions which I am always asked about my work:
Why should the it be made?
Why should I be the one to make it?
For Drowned or Saved?, I have found answering these questions fairly easy, because the play is particularly personal to me and because the answers are intertwined.
I am a Jew, exploring what it means to be a member of the Jewish people by examining our history. I was driven to write Drowned or Saved?because I was captivated by Primo Levi’s message of humanity, compassion and perseverance. His narrative offers a level-headed alternative to the wild anxiety which underpins life in the 21st Century. But I believe that there is another reason for the immediacy of this play; the voices of living survivors are disappearing. We owe them the respect of preserving and cherishing their testimony. To read their words is an important beginning, but I believe we must go further. We must actively participate in the ongoing conversation about what happened.
We cannot forget. We must not forget. Yet remembering requires effort, and it is made so much easier if we can take part in individual stories. It is almost impossible to conceptualize six million people extinguished. It is too big for the brain to hold, too tragic for the soul to bear. But maybe we can manage one person’s story. If we learn about one person, perhaps we can begin to feel the weight of all the other stories that were snuffed out before they had a chance to be heard.
My wish is that Drowned or Saved? becomes a tiny part of the ongoing story of the Jews. The past defines all of us and we Jews are, after all, a people of the book. To be Jewish is to be part of a colossal story, complete with contradiction and violent disagreement. I welcome your various responses, and hope that in some small way, this play may spark others to engage artistically with the history of the Jews.
Primo Levi (b. 1919) was a Jewish Italian writer and chemist deported to Auschwitz in a transport of 650 Italian Jews from Fossoli di Capi camp on 22 February 1944. He had been arrested in December 1943 for his resistance activity. In the camp he was registered as no. 174 517. He was transferred to Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp where he survived until the liberation on 27 January 1945.
“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere” (Primo Levi)
Marco Gambino as Primo Levi