I was a Nazi and then I returned to the Jewish State: An Actor’s Perspective

Making a move from one place to another is never easy. Even if it is from one homeland to another. Just ask my 16 year old self. I am definitely a different person from when I was sixteen but I am still moving from one place to another. What makes this Aliyah all the more special is the context of it and where I am as a human being. I identify not only as a Jew but as an actor. Many people ask what that means. To be an actor. Is it to lie? Is it to tell stories? Or is it much more then that? I think it is an exploration of the human soul and the life we as humans lead.

I was born in the United States as a religious Jew, always dramatic but never dreaming of being a part of theater because of my upbringing. I first moved to Israel when I was 16. I went to college at 19 in Herziliya and studied counter terrorism and conflict resolution thinking that would become my field of work and study. However, right after college before I joined the Israeli Army at 22, I discovered what I had in me all along but never really let it show. My love for theater and the arts.

Before I joined the army, I was visiting New York and discovered an acting conservatory program, just one of the places where actors get their training. I saw the production of Dracula and became curious about what was happening onstage and beyond to create the characters I was seeing. After I finished my service. I auditioned for some shows in Israel, performing in HMS Pinafore and West Side Story with the wonderful community theaters in Jerusalem.

Yet I still had that itch for more. I decided to go to New York and learn about acting at the same conservatory that I had seen Dracula. I made the choice to study, leaving a lot behind but hoping to learn a lot and discover what it really meant to act. Over the course of three years I discovered what it meant to me to be an actor and what goes on behind the scenes. Seeing Broadway shows, backstage, taking classes, getting involved in budding projects, doing a bit of writing, etc.

Because I had studied conflict resolution I wanted to take what I had learned in college and implement it into my acting. This included learning others’ narratives, stepping into other people’s shoes, telling others’ stories. This intrigued me and helped me better develop my sense of self as an actor. After a full year in an immersive conservatory program where I prepared many different scenes in New York, I came back to Israel for a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. I was open minded to make a move back to Israel after all I had learned and the relationships I had created in New York.

What happened then was even more amazing. While only having spent a week in Israel, I was contacted by my ex-girlfriend who wanted to know if I would be interested in playing the role of a Nazi officer for a play set in France during WWII. I was surprised that she contacted me, because we had not spoken since I had left three years before, but also a little intrigued. I asked what the dates were, I was flying back to New York on the 26th of April, and if I could read the script. Once I read the script I almost immediately said yes. To play a Nazi officer. A character and piece of the identity of people who had destroyed most of my family in the Holocaust. How could I do such a thing? But I was ecstatic at the same time because how better to discover what it was like on the other side then to step into that role. I attacked the role with vigor, with only a month and a half to prepare before the first performance. I also started dating my ex-girlfriend again.

I started working on accent and the words and character. When my director suggested to me a day before the opening night that my character seemed a mess and told me that I really needed to understand that the Nazi officer wanted to destroy those he was surrounded by, I began to change.

Every night I looked out in the Talpiyot skyline and watched all the cars, lights, and people. The bustling of Jerusalem. All I had to say while I looked on, in my mind, was that it must all be destroyed. That was my role: to learn of a girl’s Jewish identity and destroy her. (Of course she survives and the Nazi is not heard from again.) When I walked out on stage I had power and control, knowing that I could destroy whomever I wanted if given the opportunity. For those 10 performances I experienced what it felt like to be a Nazi officer. The horror of a man’s mind when he thinks he has the right to destroy human life.

The power of the actor is to be able to get onstage and show these raw emotions and thoughts without anyone getting hurt. To understand what it can be like for a serial killer, or murderer, or Nazi to go through what they have done on the stage. These roles can be invigorating and awesome to play, but the opportunity that an actor gets to play a role that has also love at its purest, and all the wonderful emotions a good person would feel can also be exhilarating. This is the exploration of the human being that I get to discover as an actor.

While we were rehearsing I began to realize that to play the Nazi was a learning experience as an actor but also as a human being and to see the evil that the Nazis wanted with my own eyes I knew I had to come back to Israel. To be an actor here and discover human emotions and life while here in Israel. After returning to Israel I proposed to my girlfriend. Now I have a wonderful partner at my side and a wonderful community to support my artistic discoveries. I hope that the larger community recognizes the importance of what we as actors choose to share and the discoveries that can be shared with the audience.

About the Author
C.B. Davies is an Actor who lives in Israel and holds a BA from IDC RRIS in Government.
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