The Mitzvah (“The Good Deed”) is a one-person play that dramatically explores one of the most shocking stories of the Second World War. More than a hundred thousand German men — classified as “mischlinge” (the derogatory term the Nazis used to describe those descended from one or two Jewish grandparents) — fought in the German armed forces. After the play there will be a post-performance lecture and audience discussion led by Grunwald.
The story of one such mischling is at the center of The Mitzvah and actor (and child of survivor) Roger Grunwald seamlessly transforms himself into an array of characters to tell that story. In addition to Christoph (the “mischling”), other characters include Schmuel, a Polish Jew from Bialystok and the play’s Chorus who offers edgy commentary that probes the boundary between the absurd and the horrific. The Mitzvah is a touching and tragic tale told in a powerful one-act solo performance created by Grunwald and Broadway veteran Annie McGreevey.
The Mitzvah adds to the historical narratives about The Holocaust at a time when few survivors remain to tell their stories to younger generations and was inspired by the lives of Grunwald’s mother and aunt, survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, respectively. It premiered at the Emerging Artists Theatre’s “Illuminating Artists: One Man Talking” festival in New York City and is currently being presented in theaters, universities and Jewish organizations around the country.
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. Nearly all were sent to forced labor camps — or worse. However, a few thousand who had an “Aryan appearance” and who were deemed by the Reich to be “valuable to the 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 mischlinge to fight for the Nazi cause. Most died in battle.
“… The Mitzvah is an important piece of cultural discourse as well as a marvelous piece of theater… by a gifted and versatile playwright and performer.”
– Rabbi Shalom M. Paltiel, Chabad of Port Washington