Retired engineer brings one-man play about Holocaust survivor to stage in Columbia


Aaron Krawitz stars in “Golgotha” from Aug 19-22 at Talking Horse Productions in Columbia.

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

The passage of time can help people find clarity or simply provide additional room for regret.

For Aaron Krawitz, a retired engineer turned amateur actor, a 17-month show postponement due to COVID-19 provided him more space to consider the mindset of his latest character: a Holocaust survivor from Greece who lived through the Auschwitz extermination camp, where his wife and daughter were killed.

For the character, Albert Salvado, the 60 years after World War II filled him with guilt. 

Krawitz, who is Jewish and taught at the University of Missouri College of Engineering, will finally have a chance to inhabit the role of Salvado and demonstrate what impact time can have when he stars in the one-man show “Golgotha,” from Aug. 19-22 at the Talking Horse Theatre in Columbia. 

“What interested me was how I would play this guy, how I would represent him with dignity, with emotional content, and how I would get inside of someone who has lived with the thought that he survived, that he facilitated the death of thousands of people,” said Krawitz, 78, who retired in 2003. “To me, this was a huge dramatic challenge, and I am an engineer, and playing a role is a problem to be solved.”

The play, originally written in Hebrew by Shmuel Refael, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, is set 60 years after the Holocaust as Salvado fixates on the past and prepares for the honoring of Jews from Thessaloniki, Greece at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Salvado, a fictional character, is a composite of the Greek Jews forced to work as sonderkommandos, Nazi death camp prisoners who removed bodies of gas chamber victims, cremated them and months later, were themselves typically killed. The Nazis liked to use Greeks in that role because they had difficulty communicating with eastern European Jews, Krawitz said. 

“They lived a little better; they had a little better food, and to this day, there is resentment about those who served as sonderkommandos,” said Krawitz, who has also performed in Columbia productions of “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “Red” about Mark Rothko.

“Golgotha” landed in Columbia because of David Crespy, a theater professor at Mizzou whose grandmother was from Thessaloniki. In August 2018, Crespy attended a conference at Bar-Ilan University organized by Refael, the playwright. Crespy was preparing to travel to Thessaloniki on a Fulbright fellowship where he hoped to conduct research on Jews who spoke Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, an amalgamation of Castilian Spanish and Hebrew.

“My goal as a descendant of the community was to dramatize the lives of these people, so many of whom were murdered by the Nazis,” said Crespy, who is Jewish. 

In addition to answering Crespy’s questions, Refael told him about his play. Crespy said he was struck by the story of the sonderkommandos, who were forced to do ghastly work but managed to stage a rebellion in October 1944 and kill SS guards but after the war, were often treated as Nazi collaborators.

After reading “Golgotha” and returning to Columbia from Israel, Crespy immediately contacted Krawitz to see if he would be interested in starring in the play.

“Aaron is a force of nature as an actor, and he was the perfect person to pull off this very vocal, very intense human being who is at the end of his life and doing everything he can to preserve this history — and it’s a very painful history that tears away at him,” Crespy explained.

Aaron Krawitz in “Golgotha” at Talking Horse Theatre in Columbia.

Krawitz may have been the perfect person for the role, but the actor is glad he had the additional time to prepare. He and others working on the play used the delay to translate the Ladino portions of the script into English and gained a better understanding of the character’s mindset 60 years after the war.

“He had been living with this for so long that he wasn’t hysterical about his memories; they had all been very internalized, and he suffered as a lonely man, saddened by his life…and this guided the way I tried to characterize him,” said Krawitz.

Al Dabiri, the director of the play, sees Krawitz as the right actor for the role.

“It’s not an easy performance, and when you are the sole actor, you don’t get to interact with other actors; you have to rely solely on your memories, and it’s very hard to memorize five acts,” said Dabiri. “I have made [Krawitz] do a lot for the show, for the rehearsals, and he has been great.”

Dabiri, an Iranian who immigrated to the United States in 2015 and was granted asylum, also sees “Golgotha” as the right play for this moment.

“You look around and unfortunately you see Nazi sympathizers everywhere these days and the rise of nationalist movements,” said Dabiri, 39. “This is the best time to do the show.”


WHAT: A one-man play about a Greek Jew forced to work as a sonderkommando during the Holocaust

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19-21; 2 p.m. Aug. 22 

WHERE:  Talking Horse Productions, 210 St. James Street, Columbia, Mo.

HOW MUCH: $15 for students and seniors; $17 for general public