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Themes of guilt and responsibility pervade the seemingly endless moment in Incident at Vichy where characters Von Berg and The Major "stand there, forever incomprehensible to one another, looking into each other's eyes." The characters in the play have been in a waiting room dreading interrogation by a Nazi captain who is searching out Jews. They, along with others, fear for their lives. However, for these two men, their interviews result in a freedom pass, each given for different reasons.
It appears that Marchand has bought his way out of danger. Before the detentions he had lived by a ruthless and mercenary value system, eventually appearing to buy even his own life with the ill-gotten gains from that heartless business. He leaves behind detainees who, except for Von Berg with his eloquent grasp of language, can't do the same.
Aristocratic Von Berg was detained because of his accent and does not seem to be unprincipled. Nor is he Jewish. He has been challenged to accept the shame and the responsibility for the Nazi war crimes by the psychiatrist and is suffering from guilty thoughts. He rejects responsibility but the psychiatrist believes he is guilty "by association" just by virtue of being human like all of us.
Von Berg gives the psychiatrist his white freedom pass, sacrificing himself to free the other man. As he leaves, Leduc the psychiatrist seems aware of his own guilt, and after all he did stoop to accept the other man's pass to life, suggesting that the two men share responsibility and guilt for their actions and those of others with all humankind. All want to play safe, all are reluctant to act. At the end of the play, the next detainees come in and they see Von Berg staring into the eyes of his Nazi captor and murderer, fixedly and in silence. It is possible that he is thinking that his guilt and responsibility may lie in the fact that if he had acknowledged his family links earlier on, he could have played a significant part in drawing attention to the atrocities and in intervening to save Jewish lives. He stares into the eyes of the other man who is carrying them out in a more visible way, but may be recognizing in himself a common culpability; he himself may be quietly guilty by association.
This morality play questions the human "crime" of avoiding complex confrontations with evil and so evading responsibility for it.
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