In light of the growing anti-Semitism that has surfaced in American discourse and communities, playwright Dr. Alan Brooks’s “A Splintered Soul” could not be timelier. This play examines philosophical questions of morality and ethics, and the effects of the breakdown of social institutions.
His play is about Holocaust survivors who have immigrated to San Francisco in 1947. For Dr. Brooks, the true victims of traumatic experiences, like the Holocaust, are those who survived. Because they are the ones left with the memories of what happened. Memories they can never discard, that haunt them for life and splinter their souls.
Talking to Dr. Brooks about his play was a meaningful experience for me. Our discussion touched on the major themes of the play such as trauma, healing, courage, and the blurring of moral and ethical boundaries. We talked about how his play is about memory. We talked of how well the set designer portrayed that theme in their stage design. We also talked about the notion of social institutions and how refugees, like the ones in his play, might have a difficult time trusting the institutions of the countries they emigrate to, because their experiences are of social institutions that have become perverted and warped.
Can you describe any of your family experiences that may have provided a backdrop for this play?
The play is based on what I observed growing up, with my family and my wife’s family’s experiences deeply influencing this play as well. I have gotten to know her family throughout our years of marriage, and have seen firsthand, the lasting effects that trauma has on someone. My wife’s family is from a Jewish community in Holland. They went underground much like Anne Frank’s family. One of the children was passed around to different family members in hiding. There have been lasting effects on these people and their children, and the effects of survival haven’t left them.
Do you see any connections between the experience of immigrant Holocaust survivors and any immigrant groups today?
The reality of what the characters in my play have experienced resonates with the current immigrant experience. Immigrants come from totally different backgrounds and countries. They have to learn how to adapt to their surroundings in order to survive. I know some Vietnamese immigrants and remember how they would react to a police officer standing on the street. They would get scared and anxious, due to their experiences in Vietnam.
I do also see some similarities between experiences of immigrants confronted by ICE today and certain things Holocaust survivors endured. ICE agents are going into their homes and taking them from their families. We should be very aware. Of all the money the federal government is spending, there is more money going into ICE, currently, than anywhere else. Hitler’s original plan was to get all of the Jews out of Germany, out of Europe. This plan failed, because other countries wouldn’t take them. The U.S. wouldn’t allow those Jews in.
What do the characters in the play symbolize?
I really believe that the true victims are the ones who survived. The courage to continue on and not give up takes a special person. The survivors were very special people, who had the mental capacity to endure what they did. They are truly exceptional people.
The characters are all trying to put their lives back together, and they are finding different ways of doing so. Sol’s [character’s] form of survival is to just look out for himself, and it doesn’t matter what he has to do, or who he has to hurt in the process. In the play he betrays the Rabbi, who had his trust and best interest in mind. However, Mordechi’s [character] still has faith, and his approach to the world is to find that good still exists. Gerta’s [character] is really damaged. She is traumatized and completely frightened. But she’s going to hold to what she can in order to move forward in her life. Rabbi Kroeller’s character can no longer find any meaning in life. During the war, he transformed from a rabbi into a freedom fighter. As a refugee, he decides that he’s going to be the protector of the survivors. But when that doesn’t work, he’s left with nothing to believe-in.
What’s the overall experience that you want your audience to have?
The audience has their own individual engagement with a play. However, my play should cause a real debate about morality and ethics. And how a person’s circumstance dictates their behavior and motivation.
This play was also written in the hopes that in the future, it will educate those to always remember the Holocaust. It’s important for non-Jews in particular to learn about it. The less people learn and know about the Holocaust, the more deniers there will be in the future.
SUZETTE ZAZUETA IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.