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Play depicting Simon Wiesenthal worth a standing ovation

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By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

VENTURA, California– It’s well worth the trip to the Rubicon Theatre, believe me. Tom Dugan is absolutely brilliant as the Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. And completely Standing Ovation-worthy.

Dugan’s one-man show is set in a replica of Wiesenthal’s office at the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna on the day of his retirement. As he putters around, gathering files, stuffing boxes, and making last-minute phone calls to confirm the location of a Nazi war criminal, he reminisces about his life and the career that earned him the sobriquet “the Jewish James Bond.”

It started at the end of World War II. He and his blonde, blue-eyed wife (a factor that allowed her to be mistaken for “a pure Aryan”) had survived the Holocaust, but 89 members of their family did not. It was his anguish at what had taken place all over Europe, and his own experiences as a prisoner in several concentration camps, that fueled his determination to spend the rest of his life tracking down Nazi war criminals and helping to bring them to justice.

“Revenge cannot be the goal,” he said. “And it isn’t only that six million Jews were tortured and killed, but five million others also: Gypsies, homosexuals, the physically and mentally impaired, political and religious opponents, teachers, writers, artists…”

Wiesenthal was horrified by the “blind obedience” with which the killing orgies were carried out by the Nazis. “If they had been ordered to kill all left-handed people,” they would have done it just as readily, he said.

He noted also that of the six million slaughtered Jews, fully one-half were killed by Austria.

There were some 15,000 concentration camps scattered all over Europe, he said. “That was where barbarism met technology.” The showers filled with gas and other innovations to make the killings quicker and more efficient were instituted because shooting a crowd of people en masse and dumping them into communal graves was beginning to upset the soldiers assigned to do it. “And besides, they considered it a waste of ammunition because they needed the bullets for use elsewhere,” Wiesenthal added.

As grim as all these statistics are in the telling, Dugan brings a humanity, a gentle dignity, and huge charm to the Wiesenthal character. “He had a great sense of humor,” Dugan says, “and he considered humor a bridge between people. He said ‘if people are laughing together, maybe they’ll forget to kill each other.’”

In that vein, he tells stories of Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to shelter Jews, and he salts his tales with sprinkles of humor. But in the end his mood is rueful as he notes that he had compiled files on some 22,000 war criminals but had only been successful in bringing 1100 of them to justice.

For Dugan, and for Director Jenny Sullivan, Wiesenthal’s life story is not just about the past. They intend it as a cautionary tale to change the present. To stand against the civil wars and genocide currently being perpetrated in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.

If anyone can make us stop and think, Simon Wiesenthal—and Tom Dugan—can. At the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, they’re giving it their best shot.

Nazi Hunter-Simon Wiesenthal will run Wednesdays at 2 and 7 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through March 11th. The Rubicon Theatre is located at 1006 E. Main Street, in Ventura. Call (805) 667-2900 for tickets or go online to www.rubicontheatre.org for 24-hour ticketing.

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Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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