On November 6, 1947, Abraham Asscher and David Cohen were arrested for collaboration with the German occupier. As the two chairmen of the Jewish Council for Amsterdam, Cohen and Asscher had, among other things, helped to distribute the Star of David, had the Jewish community disarmed and The Jewish Weekly communicated the orders of the Nazis. Asscher died before a trial could take place, Cohen was released from prosecution in 1951.
Theater makers and actors Margo Verhoeven and Jurriaan van Seters adjust The Jewish Council the question: how can Cohen’s choices be explained? Directed by Lineke Rijxman, they try to put themselves in the position of the diabolical dilemma that Cohen was confronted with: cooperate to prevent worse, or refuse. They also look at Cohen’s daughter Virrie, who, in her role as director of a Jewish nursery, saved hundreds of children from deportation, but also had to choose who could save her and who could not.
The performance has a very transparent form: Verhoeven and Van Seters introduce themselves to the audience and take us along in the research they have done. They also make it personal from the start: Jurriaan van Seters confesses that he found the history so intense that he “did away” a few times in the process. Also during The Jewish Council he and Verhoeven switch back and forth between playing the Cohens and the emotional impact the story has on themselves.
The reconstructions of the past yield exciting scenes in which Van Seters tries to put himself in David Cohen’s place as best he can. The moral tension that is thus sketched can be effortlessly translated to the current juncture, and in particular the war in Ukraine: do you have to look for compromises with a fascist occupier, or does hard resistance help?
The players’ own reflections are less successful, however, because they have a rather guiding effect: by giving their despair and moral indignation so much space, the spectator is given too little freedom to think for themselves. The emotional reactions of Verhoeven and Van Seters also seem somewhat exaggerated, as if during this process they were confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time.
The naivety of the main characters, who seem to struggle with the fact that there are shades of gray between good and evil, prevents a really in-depth search for the motives.