Joel Brand: Die Geschichte Eines Geschäfts

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Play by Heinar Kipphardt, 1965

In Joel Brand: Die Geschichte eines Geschäfts (1965; "Joel Brand: The Story of a Business Transaction"), Heinar Kipphardt takes up one of the murkiest episodes of the Holocaust: Adolf Eichmann's proposal to trade 10,000 trucks for one million Jews during his "cleansing operations" in Hungary. The deportations in the summer of 1944 were to be Eichmann's last hurrah, and they were opposed by rival agencies, who, in the face of Hitler's collapse, preferred to dissolve the camps and enter into secret negotiations with the Allies. Eichmann's chief rival within the Nazi Party, Kurt Becher, a member of the Waffen-SS and a notorious war profiteer who took his orders from Heinrich Himmler and Oswald Pohl, the head of the Economic Office, was bent on pursuing the deal. Eichmann, who took his orders from his old buddy from Linz, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Reinhard Heydrich's successor as head of the Reich Security Main Office, was bent on ridding Europe of all remaining Jews and thought the proposed exchange a farce. A maliciously chummy banter between Eichmann and Becher opens the play.

Eichmann arrived in Budapest in March 1944, and on April 15th (Brand's 38th birthday) he summoned Brand, one of the leaders of the quasi-legal Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee, to pass on Himmler's offer. What follows are a series of disastrous stalling devices, alibis, bogus claims that Brand's demands exceed the claimant's jurisdiction, and feuds among the perpetrators, bystanders, and victims. Brand approaches the Zionist agency in Istanbul and the myopic and rattled Swiss branch of the Joint Distribution Committee for the needful moneys. The members of the Istanbul-based Sochnuth refuse all aid without official sanction from the people in Jerusalem, and the Swiss representative, Saly Mayer, "a national disaster" and "a man who lives on the moon," proposes to offer Eichmann funds from his blocked Swiss account. In all of these (futile) transactions Brand asks (vainly) for (spurious) written assurances that sufficient funds will be transmitted to stay all deportations, while his volatile colleague, Reszö Kasztner, remains in Budapest and tries to practice the same stalling tactics on Eichmann with apparent astuteness and common sense. En route to Syria, where he expects to negotiate with the head of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, Brand is kidnapped by British agents and taken, not to Jerusalem, but to Cairo. By now the Allies regard him as a nuisance whose traffic (in all senses) impedes their effort to get on with the war. A captain in intelligence assures him that the impending invasion of Europe, when the Germans will need all of their trucks as troop transports, is bound to forestall further deportations, an assurance Brand will not buy. Ultimately the commissioner for the Middle East, Lord Moyne—as outraged as the Swiss naïf by Eichmann's demand to trade human beings for merchandise—asks Brand what he expects him to do with the shipment of a million Jews to Palestine, apart from provoking an explosion among the Arabs. "If there's no room on the planet for us," Brand tells him, "there's nothing for us but to go into the gas."

Despite its ho-hum reception, Joel Brand remains a grim reminder that if (pace Marx) "reification reifies the reifier" it may equally reify the victims. And if he stresses the exploitative nature of Eichmann's transactions, Kipphardt is fair enough to allow his two most mischievous (non-Nazi) characters—Mayer and Moyne (who remains offstage throughout the play)—to express the inhumanity of such deals. Brand himself meets the evasions of his bogus apologists (the people whom Lillian Hellman calls "the civilized men who are sorry") head-on. "But my dear Mr. Brand," the British agent tells him, "you must see the entire picture." Brand simply replies, "I see my children [going into the gas]."

The action is so fast paced that Kipphardt has been taxed with writing a conventionally suspense-ridden play at the expense of all of the regulation props of ducodrama. (A television version of Joel Brand, which was aired a year before its stage debut, conformed much more nearly to the genre in using photomontage—Eichmann in a sailor suit, at a picnic, as a bridegroom; lastly, the shoes of his victims—and a speaker who introduced the actors, perhaps as a sop to the people who did not know who was who.) The filmic fluidity of the play suggests that Kipphardt might have done well to follow the procedure of supplying—on a screen or by use of a speaker—the conventional forward flashes: Eichmann tried by an Israeli court and executed on 1 June 1961; with Kasztner's help, Becher acquitted at the Nuremberg trials and set up as a wealthy Bremen businessman; Lord Moyne shot by Jewish terrorists in Cairo two months after the Brand conversations; Kasztner accused by Israeli Zionists in January 1954 of alleged complicity with Eichmann in suppressing evidence of the Auschwitz atrocities from Hungarian Jews, found guilty in June 1955, murdered in Tel Aviv in March 1957, and posthumously exonerated by the Israeli Supreme Court in January 1958. Brand survived to appear as one of the chief witnesses at the Eichmann trial and so, along with the villain himself, provides a nice link to Kipphardt's final play, Bruder Eichmann.

—Edgar Rosenberg