The action is set in a small village in France where Martin Engel, a former SS officer accused of officiating over the massacre of 247 Jews in that very town during World War II, has come (after being released from prison) hoping to build a house and live out his days in peace and solitude. Although the war crimes authorities are satisfied that Engel has paid his debt to society the local townspeople are not of the same mind, and his presence becomes a growing irritant. In his conversations with the local mayor, his only friend in the village, it becomes a clear that Engel is a thoughtful and intelligent man who served his country out of duty rather than desire, and who had actually given orders only to keep peace among the villagers and not to slaughter them. But the massacre did happen, and Engel cannot absolve himself from guilt by association. In the chilling climax of the play, therefore, he offers no resistance as the hooded figures of the townspeople, bearing torches, close in for his execution—raising questions not only of guilt and expiation, but also of how widely shared this guilt must be and whether such punishment, with its disquieting reflection of the cancerous hatred unleashed by the Nazis, might not hurt the hangmen as well as the victim.
Based on a true story, this powerful and provocative study of an ex-Nazi who cannot accept the exoneration the authorities have granted him was first presented by New York's noted Circle Repertory Company. "…a play about a man wrestling with his conscience…" —NY Daily News. "…argues that postwar society dwells in a glass house and shouldn't cast stones." —Variety. "Actors love Cristofer's plays, and not without reason." —Village Voice.