Der foygl fun geto[The Bird of the Ghetto]
Act I. Courtyard of the public bathhouse No. 2. In the foreground to the left are the window and part of the house that serves as the headquarters of the United Partisan Organization (Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye or FPO). Ghetto inhabitants wait their turns to bathe. They discuss Yacov Gens, the Jewish puppet leader of the ghetto. Gens had seemed worried the day before, which seems to bode ill for the fate of the ghetto. Some ghetto inhabitants revere him, some disdain him. Isaac Wittenberg, commander of the FPO, emerges from his office, where he works as the bathhouse manager. His wife, Dinah, begs him to come home to her and their children. Wittenberg brushes her off and returns to his office. Dinah stays in the courtyard while the others go on talking, discussing the resistance movement and its leader. It is clear that they do not know that they have just seen him, nor are they aware of the existence of the FPO.
Same place, at sunset. Two boys, Falke and Sholemke, have climbed onto the roof. Wittenberg sternly tells them to come down. They say that they are afraid, but they obey him. Wittenberg softens. As Wittenberg talks to the boys, Dinah makes a move to speak to him again. He asks her irritably if his two children are okay. She replies that he should come home and see for himself. They argue and he promises her to send a half loaf of bread, but not to come himself. She accuses him of loving other people’s children, like the two boys he has just been talking to, more than his own. As they quarrel, a bird with a broken wing falls from the roof of the bathhouse. The two boys argue about who will get to keep the bird. Dinah lets Wittenberg know that she is aware that he has left her for Eda, a younger woman. Members of the FPO appear and whisper to one another. Wittenberg goes over to them. They tell him that the Germans caught a member of the Polish resistance who, under torture, gave away information about the FPO. The German are now demanding that the FPO surrender Wittenberg to the Gestapo.
Eda’s room in the house adjoining the bathhouse. This room serves as the headquarters of the FPO. It is late in the evening. Eda, wearing earphones, is seated on the floor near her bed listening to a radio. She has not yet been told about the German ultimatum. The partisan fighter Jonah ushers everyone into Eda’s house. Eda finishes listening to the radio, hides it under the floor boards, and relays the good news to her comrades that all of Europe will soon be liberated. But she is silenced by the uneasy atmosphere in the room. Wittenberg enters and all the rest leave. He tells Eda that they have decided to fight, possibly that very night. He also tells her that the Germans have demanded that he be surrendered to them. Eda is stunned, she is afraid and she does not want to fight. A messenger arrives to announce that Gens wants to see all the members of the FPO in his office. They refuse to go, but the messenger returns to say that Gens insists that they all come. Wittenberg decides to go with only two of his comrades. He tells the rest to prepare to fight that night. Esther, one of the FPO members, agrees that they must fight, but she wonders if the ghetto population will agree, given that they do not know that the Germans intend to liquidate the ghetto. They discuss whether they have a right to start fighting that evening, invoking the example of the Warsaw ghetto. They finally take a vote, which is in favor of fighting.
Act II. Office of Yacov Gens. Nighttime. Gens calls to his mistress, Thea the policewoman. She wears a new fur stole she got in exchange for saving three lives from deportation. Gens and Thea drink while they talk and it becomes clear that theirs is a love-hate relationship. Thea goads Gens by calling him a hangman and he draws his pistol on her, but thinks better of firing it. She exits, but immediately returns to announce that Gens’s “guests” have arrived. He pulls her inside, because he doesn’t want anyone to see her leaving his house so late at night. Gens pushes her into the bedroom and closes the door. Wittenberg, Esther and Jonah enter, followed by two Jewish policemen. Gens tries to phone the Germans to tell them that Wittenberg has arrived and should be arrested. But Wittenberg stops him. Wittenberg says that he has come to see what Gens wants, not to give himself up. Wittenberg argues it is better to actively resist the Nazis, despite the certainty that resistance means death for the entire ghetto population. Gens believes that the only way to save the Jews is to delay the liquidation of the ghetto for as long as possible until the Allies win the war, even if it means giving up large numbers of Jews for deportation to the death camps. Their discussion is interrupted by the entrance of three Gestapo men, who seize Wittenberg. Esther and Jonah flee through an open window. Thea emerges from the bedroom and Gens tries to persuade her to spend the rest of the night with him. They are interrupted by a Jewish policeman who announces that Wittenberg has escaped thanks to the help of the other members of the FPO.
Courtyard of bathhouse No. 2, where a large number of fighters are scattered around, awaiting orders. It is 4 in the morning. Gens’s voice is heard on the loudspeaker, urging people to find Wittenberg and turn him in. His announcement alternates with ghetto inhabitants debating whether the resistance should fight and questioning if everyone should die just to save Wittenberg. A mob demands that Wittenberg be turned in and moves to start searching the bathhouse. The FPO fighters turn their guns on the mob and try to reason with them. A ghetto councilor appears with a message from Gens that if Wittenberg delivers himself to the Germans, Gens will bail him out. The crowd pushes against the gate, led by the Jewish policemen. The gate gives way and the crowd rushes in, killing the bathhouse attendant Akiva in the process. Someone says that he has seen Wittenberg run out of the bathhouse and the mob follows after.
Same place, but showing a part of Eda’s room. Morning. The voices of the crowd chasing Wittenberg are heard in the distance. Sholemke and Falke appear in the courtyard. They discuss whether or not to kill the sick bird that they found and eat it. They run out and the courtyard is empty again until a light tapping is heard at Eda’s window. She opens the window, sees Wittenberg and helps him to climb into her room. She urges him to leave and save himself, but he says that he is tired of running and stretches out on the bed. Reality dissipates and Eda appears as Wittenberg’s mother, comforting him with images of cornfields and orchards. The dream vanishes and Eda returns to being Eda. Wittenberg awakes and tells Eda that there will be no fighting. He has decided to give himself up. The image of Dinah appears, then the image of Falke and Sholemke, who talk about their sick bird. Wittenberg returns to reality and loads his gun, intending to shoot himself. But Eda begs him to save himself. Members of the FPO enter the room. They have decided not to fight. There are shouts from the crowd, “Give us Wittenberg! We want to live!” Wittenberg hands his gun to one of the FPO fighters, telling him and the others to escape to the forest because the ghetto is lost. He steps outside and is engulfed by the crowd. Someone calls out that he is like the biblical Isaac led to the slaughter. Another voice calls out the it is almost the Sabbath, and the crowd transforms itself into a line of people waiting for baths in front of the bathhouse. Vendors again appear in the courtyard, one of them hawking poisons of various kinds. Gens appears with Thea. He orders everyone to disperse. Women flock around Thea, begging favors of various kinds. The new bathhouse supervisor appears, asking who is next in line to take a bath. Falke tells Sholemke that their bird has recovered and flown away, that it can be seen flying free over the housetops of the ghetto.