In 2006, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum received an album of 116 photographs. It belonged to an SS officer, Karl Höcker, who was an adjutant of Richard Baer, one of the commandants of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The photographs show SS officers of high rank and their assistants on vacation in a resort called Solahütte, located approximately 20 kilometres away from Auschwitz. Many important figures appear in the pictures: doctor Joseph Mengele, Rudolf Höss, Richard Baer and Josef Kramer. The album comprises no photographs of the prisoners or any images from the death camp.
Paul Bargetto and the team of Trans-Atlantyk Theatre, in cooperation with Helena Chorzelska, Krzysztof Polkowski and playwright Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk, realized a play based on the analysis of these pictures, and improvisations using the methods of documentary theatre. The effect is a merging of theatre and multimedia, a creative interpretation of source materials and documentary research.
As Paul Bargetto said about the project:
Höcker’s album brings a unique view on the history of the Holocaust and its perpetrators. Instead of inhuman beasts, it depicts relaxed people – singing, playing with dogs, flirting, laughing, or even decorating a Christmas tree. We believe that an actor is a documentalist who has unique abilities of reading photographs and translating them into living, speaking characters. Our aim is to show the perpetrators of the Holocaust through a magnifying glass of their own self-image.
Trans-Atlantyk Theatre is an international theatre group initiated in 2014 in Warsaw by Paul Bargetto – an American theatre director and the director of undergroundzero festival in New York. Bargetto has been interested in Polish dramaturgy for years now. He puts Polish plays on stage in America. Trans-Atlantyk Theatre is his Varsovian creative initiative, established together with actors: Marta Król, Grzegorz Sierzputowski, and Tomasz Sobczak.
Apart from the Polish stagings, the play was performed also in China and France, among others. The audience of the Parisian Chantiers d’Europe festival enthusiastically acclaimed the play/album. Mireille Davidovici had no doubt that the play deserves broader presentation because of its quality of training the memory. Anna Grahm noticed that the artists worked over Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil in an innovative and controversial way. According to Grahm, Paul Bargetto deciphered the Nazi criminals and showed in an unbelievable manner how much effort they were putting into forgetting about the fact they were murderers.
In April 2016, Karl Höcker Album opened the Polish theatre season in China. It was presented in Harbin Great Theatre and Tianjin Great Theatre. Both performances sold out and were a success. Asian viewers could easily find references to their own history in this unique narrative – especially to World War II relations between China and Japan.
Director: Paul Bargetto
Playwright: Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk
Costumes, scenography: Agnieszka Kaczyńska
Performed by: Helena Chorzelska, Marta Król, Krzysztof Polkowski, Grzegorz Sierzputowski, Tomasz Sobczak
The project was co-organized by Culture.pl
sources: press materials, written by TK January 2015, updated by AL May 2016, translated by NS June 2016