Denmark’s role in World War II, and the lucky escape of the country’s 7,000 Jews from Hitler’s genocide, isn’t something I know about as it wasn’t part of any history lesson I ever sat through.
Which is why I found Alexander Bodin Saphir’s debut play, Rosenbaum’s Rescue, which has just opened at London’s Park Theatre, so engrossing.
Not only was it well acted with David Bamber, in particular, giving an outstanding performance, but I also learned something – which is no bad thing.
But the play raises almost as many questions as it answers.
Saphir based the work on the true story of his grandparent’s wartime escape from Denmark.
It is a fascinating story, both as a human interest drama and one which has had far reaching repercussions for an entire country.
For it seems that what really happened, and what appears in the history books, about how and why Denmark’s Jewish community appeared to have escaped persecution by the Nazis, could be completely different after new evidence has been unearthed over the last 20 years.
In April 1940 Denmark was occupied by Germany under Nazi rule but its people were persuaded that they largely came in peace and that their government, police and military would remain in control.
Three years later 7,000 Danish Jews fled to Sweden in a flotilla of small boats while, mysteriously, all the German patrol boats were in for a repaint.
For a long time the Danish resistance and countrymen were given credit for saving them but it now appears that they may have had assistance from the most unlikeliest source.
Saphir has tried to shoehorn this amazing story into a play (and surely it would make a terrific movie?) alongside more personal aspects of his family’s past and, at times, it feels cramped.
Kate Fahy’s taut production holds your interest from start to finish although I’d have been tempted to shave ten minutes off the running time and axe the interval to keep up the tension.
There are times when it gets a over passionate and shouty but that’s understandable.
The audience is being presented with a hugely emotive subject that pitches one man’s absolute faith against another’s single-minded determination for the truth.
Bamber is Abraham Rosenbaum who lives with his wife Sara (Julia Swift), somewhere in Denmark. She has invited Abe’s boyhood friend, writer and historian Lars, to dinner along with his daughter, Eva.
The two men have been estranged for years although neither remembers why. But now Lars is researching a new book about the war and he wants to interview Abe whose family were caught up in the exodus.
The problem is that both men find it difficult to control their temper or animosity towards each other.
Abe, who was eight at the time, is convinced that his God helped the Jews miraculously escape slaughter.
Atheist Lars may have unearthed shattering new evidence that puts both their remembrances, and those of a nation, in doubt.
Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s Eva seems symbolic of a generation’s ignorance. She has been kept in the dark about her own family’s part in the war as much as what happened to those in the country of her birth.
There’s gentle Jewish humour running through the dialogue (thank goodness), mainly from henpecked Abe, which provides brief moments of levity in what is a powerfully told and deeply contentious story.
As the minutes tick by, and the two couples are snowed in and unable to escape each other, more of what really happened back in 1943 is revealed.
Bamber’s Abe is passionate and fervent, reluctant to remember the war, happy to keep the past buried. Lars, on the other hand, is dogged and determined, terrier-like in his pursuit of the facts.
Absorbing and intense Rosenbaum’s Rescue questions our beliefs and memories, and offers a radical new version of one country’s wartime experiences.
Rosenbaum’s Rescue runs at the Park Theatre until February 9.
Absorbing and intense, Rosenbaum’s Rescue questions memory and threatens to turn a nation’s history on its head. Gripping from start to finish.