“The Mitzvah Project” comes to the Hill

Actor Roger Grunwald rehearses “The Mitzvah Project” before his performance at Seton Hill University on Sept. 12. Grunwald’s play tells the story of partial Jews who served in the German military during World War II. Photo by S.Dumnich/Setonian.

“It is imperative to learn lessons of the dangers of intolerance so that events such as these will never happen again,” said Tim Crain, director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education (NCCHE) at Seton Hill University (SHU).

Tuesday evening, SHU and the NCCHE hosted “The Mitzvah Project.” The event was performed and presented by guest actor Roger Grunwald, who wanted to develop material based on his family’s background. Grunwald’s mother, a survivor of Auschwitz, was the inspiration behind the story.

“The Mitzvah Project” tells the story of Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s during World War II. The one-man play focuses on tens of thousands of partial Jews who served in the German military following the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in 1933.

“’The Mitzvah Project’ represents an interesting and little-known event in the history of the Holocaust,” said Crain, who was not able to attend but saw the event before.

Grunwald utilizes his acting ability to tell the story through a variety of characters, such as Christoph Rosenberg, a “mischling” who served in the German military, and The Chorus, who provides comedic commentary of the tragic events.

“Well between 1936 and 1945, in Europe. One thing that stands out, that the hand is exceptionally good at, is killing,” said The Chorus during the play.

The play ran roughly 30 minutes and was followed by a talkback and discussion of Jewish history leading up to the Holocaust.

The lecture, also presented by Grunwald, gave further background information on the events, terms and people that were relevant before and during that era. A few thousand of those partial Jews were exempt from the labor camps because they had an “Aryan” appearance. Those Jewish people who had an “Aryan” appearance were considered valuable for the war. Hitler signed a Deutschblütigkeitserklärung, the German term for “Declaration of German Blood,” which allowed them to join in the efforts of the Nazi cause.

Grunwald also brought up names of the past, such as Moses Mendelssohn, the first to translate the Torah into German, and Werner Goldberg, who was portrayed as the ideal German soldier. Another name mentioned in the lecture was Hermann Göring, Hitler’s second in command and head of the Nazi police. Grunwald stated that Hermann and Hitler were “sociopathic opportunists.” He went on to state an array of facts leading up to the Holocaust and the horrific events that took place.

Grunwald continued the presentation with a follow-up question and answer session with the audience members. The event was open all to all students, faculty and community members.

People from all backgrounds came to the event with the intent to get a more in-depth look at the events of the Holocaust. One individual in particular came to the one-man play hoping to find a piece of her own family’s puzzle.

“I attended for a personal reason; my aunt is a German-Jew,” said Dana Elmendorf, professor of art therapy. “I am leaving here very stunned.”

Other individuals such as Mary Calligan, who is in the graduate genocide Holocaust program at SHU, came for other reasons.

“I am doing an independent study, looking for more inspiration,” said Calligan. “I am already looking at current events through the lens and instances of history repeating.”

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