A girl in a button down dress and Oxford shoes sits on a metal chair, arms cuffed behind her back. The three walls around her are blasted apart, suspended in midair, with a door on the most intact wall leading out to a bare hallway. On it stands a man, dressed in a gray uniform. He stands so that his left arm—or, more importantly, the bright red band with the swastika on his left arm—is clearly visible.
The guard is approached by a man in a suit. After a salute, they pass each other by, leaving the man in the suit to enter the interrogation room. He, Kurt Grunwald (Tim Spears), bounds into the room and goes to shake Sophie Scholl’s (Sara Oakes Muirhead) hand, only to realize it’s being held behind her back. He quickly takes the cuffs off, making small talk with the girl being held in a Nazi cell.
Scholl has been arrested for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at her university—something the Nazis believe indicates she is the leader of the White Rose, a non-violent and intellectual resistance group. When Scholl denies that she was involved in the distribution of anti-Nazi leaflets, Grunwald becomes enraged.
And so begin the back-and-forth and Grunwald’s personality changes that seemingly come out of nowhere. Grunwald transitions back into a friendly, “good cop” persona, only to scream when Scholl doesn’t tell him what he needs. Moments later, he’s literally lying on the ground, looking up at Sophie sitting in a chair and pleading with her to help him spare her life.
“Just because I work here, doesn’t make me a monster,” Grunwald says.
His first standout line is an early indication of what seems to be the purpose of the character of Grunwald: to humanize the role of the Nazi. The majority of the play consists of scenes between only Grunwald and Scholl—their characters are equally developed. Grunwald has just as many personal characteristics as Sophie: She speaks of her father, and Grunwald tells a story of his son who was killed in action during the war.
This play isn’t a story of a young woman being interrogated for a crime she committed to defy one of the most horrific regimes in human history—it is a show of the power dynamics and fear that come into play on both sides. As much as Scholl fears for her life and the lives of the other people in the White Rose, Grunwald fears what will happen to him and his family if he doesn’t follow the orders of the Gestapo.
While this narrative may have been intended to show the difficulties of war, and the fact that there can be goodness on both sides, this comes too close to humanizing the Nazi over the revolutionary. At times, Scholl is frustrating: Grunwald is practically begging her to take a way out. She seems to have a chance to live, even to continue her resistance work when she leaves, but she chooses not to.
It’s important to remember, however, that Grunwald is in control. He isn’t powerless or helpless, and he certainly isn’t deserving of pity or respect. Throughout, though, it seems that showing his supposed compassion is the most important thing.
Scholl is only able to show her depth during the scenes with her brother, Hans Scholl (Conor Proft), when she actually voices her human concerns about her death, her family, and her cause. When Scholl finally breaks, screaming about her desire to live and all the things she has to live for, she becomes relatable. Unfortunately, it comes a bit too late in the show to have any real or lasting impact.
While We Will Not Be Silent works to show the complexities of war and of the people who live in it, it falls short, leaving the audience wondering who Grunwald really is, and what the three days he spent interrogating Scholl meant for either of them.
Featured Images by Andy Brilliant