New Play Tells the True Story of Female World War II Hero
Do you know the story of Sophie Scholl and The White Rose?
In the early 1940s, a group of German college students published pamphlets that called for the overthrow of the Nazi regime. It was the only act of mass, organized resistance to Hitler during World War II.
David Meyers’ new play, We Will Not Be Silent, tells Sophie Scholl’s story — and explores how a 21-year-old college student risked her life to oppose Hitler simply because it was the right thing to do. The play also examines a fictional Nazi interrogator, and the role that ordinary Germans played in the rise of Hitler.
The play has received endorsements and support from luminaries such as Alan Dershowitz, and Meyers is looking for a home for the play in New York, and at regional theaters across the country.
Below is an interview about the play that was conducted in advance of the CATF production. Meyers can be reached at [email protected]
Sharon Anderson: For what cause would you sacrifice your life in order to save your conscience?
David Meyers: That question is the heart of the play, and I wrote the play because I truly did not know what the answer would be. Five years ago, I was writing articles on Syria and the disgrace that America was doing nothing — especially when it came to Russia. But then I realized that in America, this was very easy for me to write – what was it costing me? In Russia, critics of Putin are literally dropping dead in the streets. Would I really be willing to give my life for a cause, even [if it wouldn’t make a] difference?
That’s why Sophie and Hans and the White Rose story are so important to me. People — including me — will see this play, and will want to think that they could be Sophie Scholl, but the reality is that 98% of them would be Sophie’s interrogator Grunwald, because they would not be willing to make that same sacrifice.
What cause were you fighting for when you were 21 years old?
I was an intern in the White House, and one of the things that attracted me to the Bush administration was what he called, “The Freedom Agenda.” Many people thought that this meant Bush wanted to spread his version of American democracy, but that’s not what it was.
The idea was that all people of the world deserve to live, not in an American democratic system, but in some kind of democratic system. Some Republicans, particularly in Trump world, take the view that some countries — especially in the Arab world — don’t deserve or want democracy. This is a condescending, despicable view.
[I believe that] if you were born in America, you have an obligation to help others live in some kind of freedom. That’s what first attracted me to want to work for President Bush, and that’s why I pursued [working] in the White House.
What did Sophie, her brother — her entire family — possess that the rest of us don’t? Was Nazi oppression extraordinarily horrendous or were they people of extraordinary integrity?
It’s a combination of both. Theirs is the only act of public resistance to the Nazis during the war. Both of my grandparents escaped Germany, one in 1938 and one in 1939, so I know the history very well. The Nazis were very efficient with capturing, torturing and killing off anyone who didn’t agree with them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people who led the White Rose were students, who [during the 1930s] would not have been persecuted.
In his personal memoir, Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood Joachim C. Fest, a Holocaust historian, writes, “As all others do, I do not” — [which is a quotation from the Bible and] a line that is actually in my play. The moral courage and strength of the Scholls, plus their religious beliefs helped them to see the world for what it was: a world of alternative facts and alternative reality. Some things are right and some things are wrong. Sophie and Hans saw what was wrong, knew it was wrong, and they had the courage to risk their lives to fight even when they knew it wasn’t going to end Hitler.
You have said that you always viewed historical events as just that — historical and “outside” you. Then 9/11 happened and your world changed. How did your world change?
I was living in my own little world. I had read about World War I, World War II and the Holocaust, but it was all in the past. Then 9/11 happened, and I realized that major historical events could happen right now. It woke me up to the rest of the world. I had initially gone to college to study acting and theater, but after 9/11 and learning of President Bush’s foreign policy, I knew I had to do something, so I went to Washington, DC.
What’s your perspective on why Hitler was able to wield so much power over the conscience of the nation? In his book, “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939,” Volker Ullrich quotes Hitler as saying, “I am the greatest actor in Europe.” The author also posits that Hitler was a skilled liar — he lied to friends and family and wore many masks. As Sophie says in your play, “Just because you repeat a lie doesn’t make it true.” How did someone take over the world by telling lies?
Donald Trump’s election has sparked much more interest in this play. I want to be very careful [about] making the Donald Trump-to-Hitler comparison, [but] Trump is absolutely brilliant at manipulating people, the press, all his different audiences — his is one of the most brilliant political acts we’ve ever seen in America. You see how his policy changes from one day to the other. He has no core beliefs, which does separate him from Hitler. Hitler had a very solid worldview. I don’t think Trump has any worldview at all. However, both are masters at telling people what they want to hear and turning lies into truth.
In her book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” Hannah Arendt, writes, “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” Is Grunwald worse than Hitler?
There’s a big debate in the Holocaust community about whether or not Eichmann was a casual supporter or an ardent supporter. Aside from that, most people were casual supporters. Sophie says that in the play: “And those who don’t believe — who support him anyway — you are the worst of all.” Grunwald and Hitler are equally complicit.
At the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, I saw a couple of protesters carrying signs with a Sophie Scholl quote: “Stand up for what you believe, even if you are standing alone.”
She lives! And today people like Sophie Scholl are all over the world — Russia and Egypt and North Korea, and they are shot in the back of the head, put into ditches and truly forgotten. The play is about Sophie, but it’s also about all those people who are not fortunate enough to be remembered, even though they made the same sacrifice.
This interview was researched, interviewed and edited by Sharon J. Anderson, CATF trustee/professional story listener and creative Director. www.sharonjanderson.com
Republished with permission of the Contemporary American Theater Festival.