Adapted for the stage by Birte Werner
5 actors (with doubling); awaiting first production
Five children who could not be more different meet in the early days of the Nazi regime. Regardless of their parents’ political allegiances, their social background and their different temperaments, the five become firm friends. Their meeting place and their refuge is a little garden with a wall. There they oppose the signs of the times with their own world, and for a while it seems that the community cannot touch them. But resistance becomes increasingly difficult, and the cracks gradually become deeper. Franz Meissner, son of an ambitious Nazi, cannot tell his father about Manja, the Jewish girl. Karl Müller, son of a communist, must try to keep seeing Franz only as a friend and not a foe. The father of the weedy Harry Hartung wants him, as a "3/4 Aryan", to make his mark in the Hitler Youth. And Heini Heidemann is forced to realize that his clever humanist father has no answer to the ever increasing spread of Nazi ideology. Only Manja, the Jewish girl from the east, seems strangely unaffected by all of this; she is the calming, dependable fulcrum of the friendship. But the fact that this impression is misleading is known to us right from the start.
Through a period of thirteen years, from 1920 to 1933, the stories of these families are cleverly and artistically interwoven. The children at the wall are far more than mere representatives of their parents: they are their reflections but also their counter-images, their inherent critics. Through their friendship, the children strive right to the end to preserve the individuality of their own lives, and not to allow it to be subjected to the general pattern. But this overall pattern, which has an ever growing impact on their lives, does not allow for any protective walls.
The author’s critique, however, also targets the enemies of the totalitarian system. In the last great dialogue between the humanist Heidemann and the resistance fighter Müller, both cling resolutely to their own convictions. In doing so, they waste this historic opportunity to stand together at the decisive moment against a threat that could not possibly be any greater:
Heidemann: You don’t have to fight only with your fists. Thoughts are also a weapon.
Müller: Those who do not stand with us are against us. Rather a sinner who helps us than a saint who merely looks on.
Anna Gmeyner (born in Vienna in 1902) was forced to flee from Nazi persecution in 1933. She emigrated to England and published Manja. A novel about five children (Querido Verlag, Amsterdam) in 1938. Manja was also her legacy as an author. Like many writers in exile, Anna Gmeyner fell silent in her unaccustomed surroundings. This novel bears eloquent and touching testimony to the depth and timelessness of her literary talent. Her daughter Eva Ibbotson became one of the most famous children’s writers in the English-speaking world, and her books have been translated into many languages.