7 November 2010 Lessons of unimaginable cruelty – “Our Class” at the Conrad Festival

Yesterday, “Our Class” directed by Ondrej Spišák on the basis of the acclaimed and award-winning drama by Tadeusz Słobodzianek of the same title, closed the broad thematic block “Borderland”. It seems that all the previous events of the Conrad Festival led and prepared us step by step for this unique theatrical event. Spišák's “Our Class” shows the massacre in Jedwabne, which Słobodzianek writes about indirectly, as the pivotal moment in the history of contemporary Poland. In the show staged in Warsaw's Teatr na Woli, students of the multinational class are orphans who are deprived of leadership and forced to fight for survival. After watching the play, we come to realise even more strongly that the crimes in 1941 were not committed by phantoms, but by people. This awareness forces to pose the painful question of responsibility for the tragic events from almost seventy years ago.

What happens in the town modelled on Jedwabne goes beyond the reality of reports of an ordinary school in the interwar period. Colleagues, who gave tribute to Pilsudski (the play begins with a school academy on the occasion of the Marshal's funeral in 1935), murder, torture, accuse and hunt one another several years later . The cited figure of Pilsudski is very significant. His death was in fact the closure of an extremely important period in Polish history – with him, the vision of the country where Poles and Jews share pride of common victories and daily burdens disappeared. In “Our Class” we shall see how the partisan Ryszard (Marek Skuratowicz), together with the informant Zygmunt (Karol Wróblewski) and the future priest Heniek (Marcin Sztabiński) rape the beautiful Dora (Monika Fronczek) in the presence of her child. There are more such traumatic moments in the play. The strength of this play and Słobodzianek's text lies in the fact that there is no radical assessment and administration of blame, but only shows the process, a rational analysis of the mechanisms that led to the crime, an attempt at finding a way to recast the trauma.

The play lasting over three hours was not an easy event, it did not give viewers comical moments of release, it did not cleanse. This is a story that moves and stays in the memory long after it is viewed. The presentation of the performance in Teatr na Woli in Warsaw was undoubtedly another culmination point of the festival, and it provoked questions that we do not find answers to, but posing them is our duty.