Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2365
The Deputy begins in August, 1942, at the papal legation in Berlin. Riccardo Fontana, an idealistic Jesuit priest, pleads with the papal representative (the nuncio) of Germany to ask the pope to condemn publicly the Nazi extermination of the Jews of Europe. Kurt Gerstein, a German who joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) to gather information on the killings, and who has witnessed gassings of Jews in the Belec extermination camp, presents his graphic eyewitness account of the gassings and cremations to the nuncio. This confirms Fontana’s worst fears.
The nuncio tells Gerstein that he is not authorized to deal with German officers and directs him to leave. Father Riccardo, however, continues to listen with horror to Gerstein’s account. Gerstein says that at the Belec camp he saw 750 people crammed into each of four gas chambers, 3,000 people who were gassed in twenty-five minutes. Like Fontana, Gerstein has visited the nuncio to urge him to tell the pope to speak out against the mass murders in his capacity as Christ’s deputy on earth.
The action shifts to Berlin, where Adolf Eichmann, the bureaucrat in charge of the deportations to the extermination camps, is relaxing, socializing, and casually discussing the extermination of the Jews with top industrialists and government officials. Also present is the cynical Doctor, who is in charge of selections for the gas chambers and medical experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Pleased that most Europeans are indifferent to the exterminations, they express their concerns about possible negative reactions from the pope. The Nazi view that the extermination of the Jews is an idealistic and scientific necessity is expounded upon.
The final scene of the first act is set in Gerstein’s Berlin apartment, where he has hidden a Jew named Jacobson. Gerstein and Riccardo will help the Jew escape by providing him with a false passport. The camp Doctor later enters Gerstein’s apartment and expresses his cynical pride that one can exterminate Jews and still be accepted as a Christian. He is intent on challenging all categories of meaning by exterminating innocent people day after day without limit. The scene ends when Father Riccardo tells Gerstein that he will do everything in his power as a true Christian to beg the pope personally to speak out on behalf of Jews, who are being murdered all over Europe.
Act 2 reveals the spectrum of the reaction of Roman Catholic officialdom to the Holocaust. Riccardo tells his own father (who is a trusted counsel to the Holy See) about the extermination of the Jews. The elder Fontana first is incredulous, then tells his son that it would be impolite for the pope to speak out against Germany, for this would violate his policy of neutrality. Riccardo replies that the Deputy of Christ would be derelict in his duty not to take a moral stand before all Christian humanity. The father retorts that his son must be obedient to the Vatican and must respect the interests of the Church. An important cardinal then enters and reminds Riccardo that Nazi Germany is a bulwark against the anti-Christian threat of Soviet Russia. He reproaches Riccardo for his unrealistic idealism, while further suggesting that the Jews have brought their grim fate on themselves.
Act 3 deals with the brutal seizure of the baptized Jews of Rome by the SS. When Father Riccardo expresses his outrage that the Jews are being seized under the very windows of the Vatican, the cardinal replies that the churches and monasteries around Rome have hidden large numbers of Jews. Riccardo holds to his belief that only a public statement from the pope can present a chance of saving the rest of Europe’s Jews from the gas chambers—that only the Deputy of Christ can face down Adolf Hitler, the anti-Christ. The act ends at the headquarters of the Gestapo...
(The entire section contains 2365 words.)
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