New Stage Drama and Lecture Reveal Hidden Tragedy of Jewish Soldiers Who Fought For Hitler

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The Mitzvah (“The Good Deed”), an original one-person Holocaust drama conceived, co-written and performed by actor and child of survivor, Roger Grunwald, tells the story of a German half-Jew who became a decorated officer in the Hitler’s army. The Mitzvah is co-authored and directed by Broadway veteran, Annie McGreevey.

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Roger Grunwald as First Lieutenant Christoph Rosenberg in THE MITZVAH written by Roger Grunwald and Annie McGreevey.

The Mitzvah… [is a] wonderful, wrenching and, at times, absurdly funny short play — Rabbi Shalom M. Paltiel, Chabad of Port Washington

The Mitzvah dramatically explores one of the most unsettling and shocking stories of the Second World War. It concerns the history and fate of tens of thousands of German men called “mischlings” — the derogatory term the Nazis used to characterize those descended from one, two or three Jewish grandparents. The tragic story of one such mischling, who became an officer in the Wehrmacht, is at the center of The Mitzvah.

The post-performance talk and audience discussion examines the history that gave rise to mischling-soldiers — the story of two centuries of assimilation, intermarriage, conversion and striving by generations of German Jews who were committed to calling The Fatherland their home.

Between the years 1870 and 1929, it is estimated that in both Germany and Austro-Hungary, some 84,000 mixed marriages took place. Based on that number and the estimated number of religious conversions and intermarriages that occurred during the preceding generation, it is probable that more than 98,000 quarter Jewish and 92,000 half-Jewish men would have been eligible for military service during the Second World War. The current conservative, albeit shocking, figure for mischlings who actually served in the Wehrmacht (that is, in all branches of Germany’s World War II armed forces) is 150,000. That number includes soldiers and officers as well as Field Marshals and Generals. The Luftwaffe’s second in command, Field Marshal Erhard Milch, was a half-Jew.

The Mitzvah Project (the play and lecture) has begun a tour that will bring it to theaters, colleges, Holocaust Resource Centers, Jewish Studies programs, Holocaust Studies programs, synagogues, Jewish community organizations and high schools across the country.

There are three characters Grunwald brings to life in The Mitzvah: Christoph (“the mischling soldier”); Schmuel, a Polish Jew from Bialystok and The Chorus, a Groucho Marx-esque comedian/philosopher who interjects edgy commentary probing the boundary between the absurd and the horrific.

“I was originally inspired to develop The Mitzvah as homage to my mother who, as an Auschwitz survivor, used her wartime experience as a tool for teaching the lessons of history to young people,” says Grunwald. “With my mother’s generation dying out, The Mitzvah is the fulfillment of my promise to her to use my skills as a writer and performer to connect the theatre and its capacity to touch people with the historical necessity of keeping the lessons of The Holocaust alive.”

The Mitzvah had its world premiere at the Emerging Artists Theatre’s “Illuminating Artists: One Man Talking” festival in New York City and was subsequently performed in Evanston, IL and at The Chabad of Port Washington, NY.

“The Chabad of Port Washington had the unique good fortune to present The Mitzvah, (Ms. McGreevey and) Mr. Grunwald’s wonderful, wrenching and, at times, absurdly funny short play. I believe The Mitzvah is an important piece of cultural discourse as well as a marvelous piece of theater, co-written and acted by a gifted and versatile playwright and performer.” — Rabbi Shalom M. Paltiel, The Chabad of Port Washington, NY.

Cindy Rosenthal, Ph.D., Associate Professor Drama and Dance at Hofstra University, says, "Grunwald’s story-telling is riveting, clear and original throughout. I have written previously on Holocaust drama and on memory and performance (NY TIMES; 25 February, 2001) and was delighted to find The Mitzvah both unique and on the highest level among these works…”

Upcoming Mitzvah Project performances and talks:

  •     The Center for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation, Paramus, NJ.
  •     The Chabad Jewish Center of Northwest Bergen County, Franklin Lakes, NJ.
  •     The Center for Peace, Genocide and Holocaust Studies, Toms River, NJ
  •     The Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives Bayside, NY.

Click here for times and dates for the above

About Roger Grunwald: Roger Grunwald has been a professional actor for over thirty years and was honored with a 2013 Opportunity Grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) for the development of The Mitzvah Project. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Grunwald has appeared in over 70 stage productions in the United States and Europe. From the early 1980s through the mid 2000s, Roger was one of the key founding-activists who created the non-profit All Stars Project (ASP), which has pioneered an innovative approach to youth development using theatrical performance. During his 26-year tenure at the All Stars, he co-founded ASP's Castillo Theatre where he starred in over 45 productions.

About Annie McGreevey:
Annie McGreevey is an actor, singer, writer, director, and teacher, with a career spanning more than 40 years. She has been featured on Broadway and in London’s West End in some of the theater’s biggest hits, including Sweet Charity, Company, Sweeney Todd, and Annie. Ms. McGreevey has worked with Alan J. Lerner, Bob Fosse, Cy Coleman, Harold Prince, Michael Bennett, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Joshua Logan and Wynn Handman. Her career has also included extensive work as a solo artist including her portrayal of an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor in Martin Sherman’s Rose. A scholarship graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, Annie is a founding member of the Alliance of Women Directors. Her short film, The Sheet Cake, was aired on PBS stations throughout the South.

About The Mitzvah Project: The Mitzvah Project is a three-part presentation consisting of an original one-act, one-person drama (The Mitzvah); a post-performance lecture and audience discussion led by Roger Grunwald, the program’s co-creator and actor. Through one soldier's story, The Mitzvah reveals the startling history of tens of thousands of "partial Jews" who served in Hitler's military, most of whom were discharged in 1940. However, a few thousand who had an "Aryan appearance" and who were deemed “ valuable to the Reich’s war effort” were exempted from the Nazi race laws. A “Declaration of German Blood” (a Deutschblütigkeitserklärung) — signed by Hitler himself — allowed these select few thousand mischlings to fight for the Nazi cause. Most died in battle. The talk traces the fateful chronology of Jews in Germany from Moses Mendelssohn, through the arrival, in the late 19th and early 20th century into Germany, of over a hundred thousand Jews from the Pale of Settlement (so-called Ost Juden), to the rise of Hitler. Grunwald charts two centuries of German Jewish assimilation, intermarriage and conversion — the collective aspiration of generations of German Jews — to find a seat at the table within Germany’s dominant Christian culture. For information about booking The Mitzvah Project, click here


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