A Young Man Of Krakow

This is a short play I wrote last year. It was intended to satirise the ‘Protocols of Zion’; and was originally called ‘The Learned Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. I’ve changed the title to avoid confusion.


“So blessed are the ones through faith that go about the living…”

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was exposed as a forgery – created by the Russian Tsarist police – in an edition of The Times, in 1921 [1]. However, few people know that the text was not based on Maurice Joly’s treatise The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu as has been claimed in various learned publications, by numerous venerable scholars, teachers, professors, experts and academics; and sundry other people with a specialised knowledge of the subject matter. No – the true source drawn upon was in fact a short play entitled The Learned Protocols of the Elders of Zion, written c. 1870 [2].

The play’s author is unknown by name: history has forgotten them, and – it would seem – their work almost entirely [3]; but the plagiarism is clear. For example, arguably the most infamous line in the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the following:

“‘What I am about to set forth, then, is the very foundation of our future system for world domination: we Jews have cornered the soft-furnishings market, and soon, we will move into ceramics’

(Cackles of wicked laughter peal forth; the clinking of conspiratorial wine glasses ensues)” [4].

This, it would seem, was a re-cast of a short passage featured in The Learned Protocols of the Elders of Zion, pencilled into one of the manuscript’s decidedly narrow margins – almost certainly as an afterthought, as it is not included in the main body of the text :

“(Father) Bloody Liebowitz, selling his cloth at that price – no honest man can afford to compete with that. It must be knocked off. It has to be.
(Son) What price do you sell it at?
(Father) That’s neither here nor there, lad. Don’t be so impertinent. No honest man can afford to feed his family without cutting costs somehow”.

However, the central story of the play itself concerns a young anonymous Polish Jew who sought to become a Rabbi, much to the chagrin of his parents. It is in the midst of this discussion, on a bright Autumn afternoon in Krakow, that the play is set. It has one act and one scene only. Something appears to be missing from the script towards the end, however, which will no doubt become understandable later. Here then, published for the first time in history, is the script in full:

Act 1 of 1; Scene 1 of 1

(Son) Look, it says in the Torah…
(Father) Ssh!
(Son) What?
(Father) Don’t say that!
(Son) Don’t say what? Torah?
(Father) Yes, that, for God’s sake!
(Mother) We don’t want people thinking that we’re Jewish!
(Son) We are Jewish…
(Father) Exactly – and it’s something to be proud of. We have a rich history; we’ve made many wonderful contributions to the world as a people.
(Mother) We just don’t want everybody knowing about it, that’s all.
(Son) That’s ridiculous. You put a Mezuzah up only the other day.
(Mother) Yes, well, I won’t have our neighbours looking down their noses at us just because we’re Jewish.
(Son) Look, I want to be a Rabbi…
(Father) God – I told you – didn’t I say?
(Son) …people are going to figure out that I’m Jewish at some point, father.
(Father) A Rabbi for god’s sake.
(Son) What precisely is wrong with that?
(Father) Nothing. Nothing at all son – not one thing. But will you not give accountancy a try?
(Son) Accountancy?
(Father) It’s a much more stable career. Moshe’s boy is already apprenticed, and he’s making a training allowance…
(Mother) And with excellent prospects.
(Son) Moshe’s son is innumerate.
(Father) That has nothing to do with it.
(Son) What kind of prospects are there for an accountant who can’t count?
(Mother) Don’t be so fresh, young man. He has a career before him, at least.
(Father) Aye, he can go and work for that bloody Liebowitz, for one. Nobody who can put two and two together is allowed anywhere near his books – of that you can be sure.
(Son) Look, people – all people – our people especially – have spiritual needs. We don’t live by bread alone…
(Father) Yes, I know that well enough, lad – not least of all when you can’t afford to buy any. Then you don’t bloody live at all.
(Son) No, that’s not what I mean…
(Father) Why do you hate me, son?
(Son) I don’t hate you – I love you.
(Mother) Don’t contradict your father.
(Father) It’s nothing but perversity.
(Son) That’s not true, father.
(Father) Yes, well, you’ll have to think about that when I’m dead, won’t you?
(Son) About what?
(Mother) You were always so reverent as a child.
(Father) Maria, please. Look, it’s not that I don’t think that you shouldn’t be able to follow your heart boy, but I can’t afford to put you through Rabbinical school.
(Son) I could work for you in the store, on an evening…
(Father) I can’t afford that either – I can barely manage to keep on Suizmann’s young lad as it is; and his old man’s not getting any healthier. Heaven help the pair of them come winter.
(Mother) Three years the poor boy’s been without a mother. There’s no wonder he’s so quiet.
(Father) Practically silent – which is more than can be said for many.
(Son) Father…
(Father) Speak up lad.
(Son) I could work chores at Kryshuczek’s bakery.
(Father) Nonsense – it’s going out of business. Probably.
(Son) Look, you said I should bring a second wage into the family, right?
(Father) Why don’t you give zither lessons?
(Son) What? Well, it’s broken.
(Father) Nonsense – if you charge a Zloty per hour…
(Son) No, really, the mouthpiece is broken.
(Father) Well then, half a Zloty per half hour?
(Son) I mean it – it doesn’t work.
(Mother) A poor craftsman always blames his tools.
(Son) That’s hardly applicable, Mother.
(Mother) It’s perfectly valid; and perfectly typical.
(Father) Aye, too much like hard work. Never willing to lift a finger.
(Son) I just said that I don’t mind working…
(Father) I don’t want you working! Look what it does to a man’s back! Every time I lean over to pick something up I have to say a short prayer and hope for the best!
(Mother) and mutter oaths whenever…
(Father) Please, Maria. Anyway boy, why can’t you just get the thing repaired?
(Son) I can’t afford it.
(Father) What about the money that I gave you last month?
(Son) I gave it to Karolina across the road.
(Mother) That harlot?
(Son) She’s a nice woman, mother; and her son needed…
(Father) Asking a future Rabbi for what little money he has! Shameless!
(Son) She didn’t ask; and she’s very proud, father.
(Father) Proud indeed.
(Mother) She gives herself airs.
(Father) Proud – yes, well, she can afford to be now, can’t she? It’ll be mink and beluga and pearls three ways to Saturday.
(Son) It was a pittance…
(Father) What does that mean?
(Son) …it went towards buying some shoes for her son, so he can attend the school.
(Father) You’ve taken leave of your senses boy. You’ll never see it back.
(Son) I don’t wish to. And besides, the other day, didn’t you give her…
(Father) Be quiet, lad. A fine day – a fine day indeed – when charity meets with precious little return. Look at your own shoes!
(Son) It’s not a problem.
(Father) Falling apart! Look at them! What will people think of you? Of me?
(Mother) Of us?
(Father) That I…
(Mother) that we…
(Father) Can’t provide for you!
(Son) Nobody thinks that. They know how hard you work.
(Father) One minute it’s wanting to work at the hospital; the next it’s wanting to be a Rabbi. You need to make up your mind lad.
(Son) I have. I’ve thought about it for a long time. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, really.
(Father) You’ll be throwing your lot in with those crazy Zionists next week. Bloody Zionism. Stuff and nonsense.
(Mother) Dreams and fancies.
(Son) They’re just doing what they think is best, father, mother.
(Father) They’re just keeping themselves occupied ‘til doomsday, more like. ‘Israel this; Israel that’ – they don’t know the meaning of the word. Hair down to their shoulders – I’ve seen it.
(Mother) Slatterns and wastrels. None of them clean their nails before eating.
(Son) If it’s any consolation, they don’t like Rabbis any more than Jews do.
(Father) Don’t be ridiculous! Nothing would make me prouder than to have a Rabbi for a son! But will you not consider accountancy?
(Mother) You’d make a fine accountant. Simply excellent.
(Father) Don’t encourage him – he’ll only grow conceited.
(Mother) Well, it’s a step up from teaching the zither, at least.
(Father) Can’t you be more supportive? Bah! He’s too lazy for that anyway. Accountancy’s no gravy train, boy. If you want to become a good accountant you’ll have to graft.
(Son) I don’t want to be an accountant…
(Father) Why on earth not? Give me one reason – just one – and I’ll say no more.
(Son) I have no aptitude for that line of work.
(Father) You have no aptitude because you’re happy to let your talents go to waste, boy. They are not one and the same thing.
(Son) It means nothing but drudging. Sitting in an office all day; bored senseless. There are plenty of boys looking for those kind of opportunities. They’d happily jump at the chance. There’s no need for me to follow suit.
(Mother) Yes, and how many of them ever get married?
(Son) That’s beside the point, mother.
(Father) Don’t defy your mother – marriage is important for a man. Marriage is irrelevant, Maria. Don’t fill the lad’s head with nonsense.
(Son) Father…
(Father) Look, I can’t afford to keep you here indefinitely; you know that, lad.
(Son) I know.
(Father) I just want what’s best for you.
(Mother) We both do.
(Son) Yes; I know that.
(Father) Doesn’t the…doesn’t the Torah say something about bringing honour to your parents?
(Mother) To honour your mother and father ?
(Son) Yes. Yes, it says that.

Here the manuscript ends. There appears to be something missing; there is no record of supplementary pages, however. All that is present today is a single-sheaf manuscript carefully folded, though badly aged, and stored in a simple attaché case – the kind frequently found in the possession of mid-level accountants of the place and time. Within the case was a copy of the Bible, written in Yiddish. The script was found in a plain, unmarked envelope, and had been placed almost exactly between the Old and New Testaments [5].

[1] See: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/09/060911-zion.html

[2] Not really, of course – I’m making this up

[3] Equally mysterious is quite why a Polish author would write a script in English; but this question will have to remain unanswered for the time being.

[4] It’s in there somewhere. Not quite at the beginning; and neither before nor after.

[5] This was an apocryphal location, needless to say