‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ revisits World War II war crimes

FARGO - As a high school student in Warsaw, Poland, Monika Browne visited the Auschwitz concentration camp on a school trip with her classmates. The bus ride there was rowdy.
From left, Monika Browne’s great-grandmother Waleria Hankus, Browne’s grandmother, Maria Hankus, and a great-aunt of Browne’s in Poland. During World War II, Waleria was forced into slave labor at a camp in Dresden, Germany, and Maria became a resistance fighter. Browne plays Maria Wallner in Tin Roof Theatre Company’s production of “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Special to The Forum

FARGO – As a high school student in Warsaw, Poland, Monika Browne visited the Auschwitz concentration camp on a school trip with her classmates. The bus ride there was rowdy.

The ride home, however, was silent.

“You can read about it ad nauseam, but going there, you don’t need to hear another lecture, and, likewise, you can’t say much. I don’t think I saw anybody crying, but I don’t think there was much conversation until the next day,” says Browne, who moved to the U.S. 10 years ago.

Learning about World War II and the Holocaust was just part of growing up in Poland. She heard stories of separation, escape, slave labor and resistance fighting in her own family and in others.

“It’s a sad and fascinating story, but it’s not a unique story,” she says of her grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ experiences.

Now the 34-year-old actress from Valley City has a chance to help keep victims’ memories alive with her role in Tin Roof Theatre Company’s production of “Judgment at Nuremberg,” opening Friday.

“Even though World War II ended in 1945, those victims are not items in a museum,” she says. “This is a wonderful opportunity to tell those stories and also to revisit what happened.”

In the stage version of Abby Mann’s classic 1961 film, four German judges and prosecutors are tried after the war for their involvement in atrocities committed under the Nazi regime.

Browne, in her first production with Tin Roof, plays Maria Wallner, a victim of the race-defilement laws established in 1935, tried for associating with a Jewish man. The character is based on many like her.

“Her scenes are quite pivotal,” director Karla Underdahl says, “because they cause the main judge that’s on trial to give his testimony and confess to what he had done.”

Through the trial, “Judgment” explores themes of morality, personal responsibility, the value of the individual versus the “greater good,” and forgiveness.

“It addresses moral questions we should be asking ourselves at any point in history,” Browne says.

While preparing for the play, Underdahl delved into her own family connection to World War II and discovered that her grandfather served in Europe for three years.

“I didn’t even know, until I started this show, that he was in World War II,” the 27-year-old Moorhead woman says.

It was something he never talked about, not even to his five sons, who all served in Vietnam.

But the photos Underdahl found in a leather-bound book of his speak for themselves. Glued to the pages were black-and-white images of stacks of bodies, piles of bones and an occasional skeletal survivor.

“It makes you think, ‘What would I have done?’ ” she says.

Tin Roof, with sponsorship from the Jewish Relations Council of Minnesota & the Dakotas, is planning a talk-back session following the first Sunday performance.

“It will be interesting to see how people react to this show,” Underdahl says.

If you go

What: “Judgment at Nuremberg”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Oct. 2-4, and 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 5; a Q-and-A session will be held after the Sunday performance.

Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 4th St. S., Fargo

Tickets: Regular-price tickets cost $17, $12 for students and seniors, $10 each for groups of 10 or more, and $7 for students and are available by calling the box office at (701) 235-6778 or visiting www.thestageatislandpark.org.

Online: http://tinrooftheatre.org