Simon Wiesenthal has been called the Jewish James Bond. But instead of martinis and an Aston Martin, Wiesenthal relied on “persistence, publicity and paperwork” — so says Tom Dugan, who wrote and starred in “Wiesenthal,” a one-man show about the famous Nazi hunter. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is offering a video engagement of his acclaimed Off-Broadway performance through Oct. 27.
In the show, Wiesenthal addresses a final group of students before his retirement, recounting stories that are, at times, shocking, poignant and heart-breaking. But, he says, he’s not telling the stories to make us cry. He’s telling us so that we learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and are aware of the danger that genocide could happen again, as it has through history. He points out the atrocities in Darfur, Armenia and other places around the world.
Wiesenthal, who was a prisoner in more than a dozen concentration camps during World War II, says he used his gift of life to hunt Nazis for 38 years. But he says he has not solved the problem of the “human savage.” In fact, he calls himself a 5% hero because, of the 22,000 Nazi criminals on his list, he helped to find 1,100.
We learn about some of the Nazis that were brought to justice through Wiesenthal’s efforts. One in particular was very important to him: the officer who arrested Anne Frank. School children in Austria had told him they didn’t believe her story was true; their parents had lied about the war and their part in it. Wiesenthal was determined to find that man, and he did.
Wiesenthal also praises two SS officers who didn’t just blindly obey authority. One of them saved his life in a camp, and Wiesenthal later invited him to his daughter’s wedding.
The humor sprinkled throughout the show is wonderful, and maybe that’s what kept me from bursting into tears — until the last few lines when Wiesenthal asks the audience a question, which I won’t spoil here.
Wiesenthal’s story is powerful, inspiring and, unfortunately, ever-timely. And Dugan tells it masterfully. It’s a story we all need to hear.
And, if you want to learn more, he tells us that the office in Austria where he did all this work was moved after his retirement to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
—Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA
See our preview post for ticket information and other details about the show: