God on Trial

One of the things I enjoy about my time living in Belgrade is access to the European History channels on the television, and in particular the documentaries and re-enactments and eye witness accounts about World War II. These aren’t stories we get to hear a lot about in South Africa – I guess our own conflicts are more recent – but they are constantly surprising, moving, and a reminder to me that there is no monopoly on suffering.

So I’d just finished the shattering story of survival of the Frydman family of Warsaw – the only, (yes, you read that right ONLY) Polish Jewish family to survive the war intact – when I switched channels to a made-for-BBC2 film called God on Trial.

A film about faith by Frank Cottrell Boyce, it’s set in a men’s dormitory in a concentration camp the night before half the number are scheduled for extermination. (Based on a true story, apparently) The starved, brutalised, despondent inmates decide to put God on a dignified formal trial – accusing him of breaking his Convenant with the people of Israel. It’s bleak, gut-wrenching stuff, as the prisoners present arguments for and against; was this suffering all part of God’s design? Was Hitler the hand of God? Why did Jews think they had the monopoly of God’s love? Wasn’t God just an angry God and not a God of love? In the end they vote that God is guilty of breaking his convenant. And most of them are then gassed. Gasp.

It’s completely brilliantly acted – Antony Sher, Stephen Dillane, Rupert Graves, Jack Shepherd – thoughtful and thought-provoking theatre. It filmed in Strathclyde, so everything is suitably damp and miserable.