In a dark time in human history, an even darker time is revealed in Tom Dugan’s powerful one-man take on the bittersweet retirement of Simon Wiesenthal.
By John Lavitt
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) November 5, 2020 – Over the years, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has been known for putting on the very best examples of high culture in Los Angeles. Given such a track record, it’s not surprising that the organization would be streaming the same quality programming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, Wiesenthal, written and performed by Tom Dugan, is both a touching tribute to a courageous man and an unblinking look into what many believe to be the greatest evil of the 20th century.
As a Nazi Hunter, Simon Wiesenthal was without par. Despite his participation in bringing to justice over a thousand Nazi war criminals, he felt like he had failed in his mission at the end of his life. After all, in his files, over 20,000 Nazis remained at large. From his perspective, bringing in only 5% of his targets was not enough, particularly given the gravity of their crimes.
The greater world, however, did not agree with his harsh personal assessment. In a statement after Wiesenthal’s death at the age of 96 in 2005, Council of Europe chairman Terry Davis expressed the opinion of the civilized world, “Without Simon Wiesenthal’s relentless effort to find Nazi criminals and bring them to justice, and to fight anti-Semitism and prejudice, Europe would never have succeeded in healing its wounds and reconciling itself. He was a soldier of justice, which is indispensable to our freedom, stability, and peace.”
Simon Wiesenthal would have appreciated the sentiment, but he would not have agreed. At least, not entirely, because his standards were the standards of a man doing his best to honor the countless dead that perished in the concentration camps and beyond. Taking place on the day of his retirement as he is packing up the contents of his office in Vienna to be shipped to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the one-man show reflects his bittersweet attitude.
Although he is so grateful to be alive, Simon Wiesenthal cannot escape the shadows of the past. In the end, he realizes, “I have not fixed the problem. The human savage still lurks just below the wafer-thin veil of civilization.” It is hard to move on when so little justice has been achieved.
As stated in the one-man show, Simon Wiesenthal learned so much when Adolph Eichmann, the technical architect of Hitler’s Final Solution, walked into the courtroom in Jerusalem in 1962. Rather than beholding a monster, people saw a mousy little bureaucrat. At that moment, Simon Wiesenthal realized, “It does not take a criminal mind to commit mass murder: Simply blind obedience to authority… If an average man is capable of such terrible things, then so am I. This is the lesson of Adolph Eichmann, and humanity was forced to look in the mirror at itself.”
There is no questioning the passion of Tom Dugan for this project and the excellence of his performance. At times, however, it feels like we only scratch the surface of the man. There is so much more to learn from such a rare soul. Nevertheless, the one-man show accomplishes a great deal and deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
As Tom Dugan told NPR, “It’s just important to spread the concept of tolerance, particularly in places where intolerance has been so horrendously displayed.” Indeed, when our country is being torn apart by intolerance and division, Simon Wiesenthal’s lessons are more valuable than ever before. Once again, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts transcends a significant challenge to give something truly valuable back to their community. Wiesenthal is a one-man show that is not to be missed.