The play is based on the real-life trial of John Demjanjuk, a US citizen of Ukrainian origin. In 1942, then a Soviet soldier named Ivan Demjanjuk, he was captured by the Germans, and after the end of the war he immigrated to America as a "victim of the fascist regime." In the late 1970s, Demjanjuk was charged with collaborating with the Nazis. Allegedly, he was none other than "Ivan the Terrible", one of the most brutal guards of the Treblinka concentration camp, and in 1988 the Israeli Supreme Court sentenced him to death. However, documents found in the KGB archives refuted this claim. Nevertheless, the Israeli investigation revealed that after being taken prisoner, the convict did in fact undergo a Nazi-supervised training in Trawniki and was subsequently involved in the management of the death camps of Sobibór and Majdanek as well as of the labour camp in Flossenbürg. In 2011, by decision of the Munich state court, the 89-year-old Ivan Demjanjuk was found guilty of aiding in the murder of 28,060 prisoners in the Nazi death camp in Sobibór, and was sentenced to five years in prison. However, due to his advanced age he was released before the appeal was submitted. He did not live to experience due incarceration, as he died in a nursing home at the age of 91. The Demjanjuk trial was one of the most notorious in a series of similar trials, and it went down in history as the last one involving crimes committed during the Second World War.
The production does not address the question of Demjanjuk's guilt. Instead, it exposes the theatrical nature of the nearly 40-year trial itself. The performance is carried out in the spirit of the Brechtian "epic theatre", and as such it a sarcastic show on the verge of absurdity, a "tragic circus", as foreign critics have precisely defined the genre.
"He became a symbol – a symbol of trying to find those responsible for the nightmares of World War II. (…) There is a feeling that the trial is no longer about him, but about Germany's desire to legally reconcile with its past."
Jonathan Garfinkel, playwright
The play was successfully staged in the USA and in Germany; its Russian premiere took place on 25 April 2017 on the stage of the Errata Museum of Contemporary Art.
In 2018, the performance won Best Director and Best Actor at the Proryv (Breakthrough) Theatre Awards in St. Petersburg.
- The performance was included in the programme of the 20th NET – New European Theatre Festival in Moscow, Russia. December 2018
- Arkhangelsk International Theatre Festival - April 2019
- "Black and White" - International Theatre Festival in Imatra - June 2019