Spanning several decades, The White Factory explores the life of Yosef Kaufman, a Holocaust survivor from Łódź, haunted by his wartime experiences as he tries to build a new future in 1960s Brooklyn.
This is the world premiere of a daring collaboration between Ukrainian, Russian and British creatives, led by writer Dmitry Glukhovsky, author of the bestselling Metro 2033 franchise, and visionary theatre director Maxim Didenko – both of whom are political exiles and vehemently outspoken critics of the war against Ukraine.
This heart-wrenching drama of love, endurance, despair and hope follows one man’s journey from the Łódź ghetto of 1940s Poland to ‘sixties America, where the possibility of a new life is tested to the limit by the remnants of his past.
The central theme of The White Factory is the juxtaposition between the rational, calculated, and economical way in which the German administration weighed up Jewish lives, and the blind faith in salvation, and naivety, that many of the Jews had.
The fact that the perpetrators of this terrible crime went unpunished, and remained unrepentant, drove Dmitry Glukhovsky to pursue this story.
While the protagonist of the play Yosef Kaufmann is not a historical figure, other characters of the play are; these include Chaim Rumkowski and SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe.
Many of the details and scenes of the play are based on documents and accounts of Łódź ghetto inmates, and conversations Dmitry Glukhovsky carried out with Holocaust survivor Salomea Kape, to whom the play is dedicated.
Dmitry Glukhovsky - Playwright
“The White Factory was written a few years ago in what seems to be a foreboding of the abrupt transformation of my home country into a fascist dictatorship.
Watching a resentful and revanchist neoimperialist regime grow and ripen from the inside, real-time, eye-witnessing ominous social changes that were certain to bring about a catastrophe, made me turn to my Jewish roots, recalling and researching another story of conformism and desperate hope for the better: the story of the Łódź ghetto. But as I wrote the play, I could never guess how quickly my fears would become a reality…”
The Łódź Ghetto
The history of the Łódź Ghetto is markedly different from that of the more famous Warsaw Ghetto. While the latter was turned into a concentration camp that would eventually rise up against Nazi brutality, Łódź operated very differently.
Under the watchful eye of Chaim Rumkowski, head of the Council of Jewish Elders, the Ghetto became a manufacturing hub, producing all kinds of supplies for the greater German Reich and Wehrmacht.
Rumkowski’s plan was for the Ghetto’s inhabitants to become indispensable to the Reich, and thus be spared the death camps, the first of which, Chelmno, was only a few hours from Łódź.
It was at Chelmno that the Germans, headed by SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe, first tried and tested gas vans as an instrument of mass murder.
Some 150 factories and workshops were set up in the Ghetto, where Jewish workers laboured for food stamps worth a meagre 600 calories a day. Schools, temples, and apartments were all turned into factories. The cathedral of the Holy Virgin Mary became “The White Factory”, where workers stuffed the fluff from the pillows of the ‘deported’ into new pillowcases to be sent to German homes. Feathers flew everywhere.
All the time the murder at Chelmno continued unabated. Anyone considered ‘unproductive’ either starved to death or was deported to either Chelmno or Auschwitz-Birkenau.
One way for men to save the children and elderly in their families was to volunteer for the ‘Ordnungdienst’, the Jewish ghetto police. Its rank and file helped the Nazis find and deport the weak and unproductive, and were informed of forth coming ‘operations’, giving them precious time to inform and hide their loved ones.
Forced Labourers Working in a Factory in Łódź in 1941
Forced Labourers Working in a leather refining factory
The German administration’s obsession with productivity and numbers set up a devilish framework for the people of the ghetto. The Nazis issued plans outlining the number of Jews to be sent to Chelmno and Auschwitz. It fell to Chaim Rumkowski and the other Elders, the de-facto government of the ghetto, along with their police force, to select those for deportation.
In September 1942 the Germans demanded Rumkowski turn over 20,000 unproductive people - children and the infirm. It was then Rumkowski made his famous speech, asking the people of the ghetto to hand their children over to him to avoid a German military intervention to select them.
The mastermind behind the extermination of the Jews of Łódź, Wilhelm Koppe, escaped justice. The man who turned murder into a mass production line, returned to his home city of Bonn at the end of the war, and became the director of a chocolate factory. He was eventually arrested in 1960, but released shortly thereafter owing to his ‘ill-health’. He lived for a further decade and died peacefully in 1975.