Playwright Israel Horovitz was kind enough to forward to us some comments he made about the play from a long-forgotten news interview:
How would you describe this play to theatergoers?
Lebensraum is an extremely theatrical play – 3 actors play 50 or so different characters… Simply said, Lebensraum is a kind of fantasy-fable in which the German Chancellor makes what he describes as the press-conference of the century. He says he cannot live with the guilt he feels for what his parents and grandparents did during WWII/the Holocaust, and so he invites 6,000,000 Jews to come to Germany to live to replace the dead Jews… he offers these new citizens jobs. The play follows an out-of-work dockworker from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Bremerhaven, Germany, where he takes a job away from a German dockworker… A romance develops between the son of the American and the daughter of the German…
Where did you come up with the idea for the play?
I was in Germany seeing a bunch of my plays and encountered a bizarre anti-Jewish slur from an actress, who said "You can’t have Jewish character in plays in Germany… it doesn’t smell good..." This incident led to my talking quite seriously with one of my German translators, a young woman who had grown up not knowing a single Jew, until she went to translation school in England. Her (French) boyfriend told me how difficult it was for her traveling in the world as a young German woman, because people were generally anti-German after the war… I began to think that Germans of her generation would one day think "These abstract Jews are causing me a lot of trouble… and we’d be right back in it, again." I had the idea for a play in which 6,000,000 Jews are invited back to Germany…
Do you think Lebensraum has a lesson to tell about history and the chance of it repeating itself?
I have tried to create a modern day circumstance that mirrors what was going on in the world when Hitler came into power… that Jews were being blamed for Germany’s struggling economy, etc etc. So, yes, it is a heavy-duty warning that things forgotten are oft-repeated, and that there’s no limit to human cruelty. That said, the play is a lot of fun to watch. It’s extremely theatrical and is a blend of, well, comedy and tragedy…
The idea that a German Chancellor would make such an offer is bound to make some people laugh—do you consider it a ridiculous idea?
It’s a fanciful premise, yes. I don’t think the subject can be treated with somber seriousness and still find an audience. I have tried to find a new approach, a theatrical approach… I had a lot of fun writing this play… it wasn’t easy, but it gave me a great deal of pleasure… and I love watching it.