BLONDE POISON is based on the true story of Stella Goldschlag (1922-1994), a young woman who had exquisite beauty with the blue eyes, blonde hair and bone structure that marked her as a young Aryan goddess. But she was not an Aryan – she was a Jew who survived the Holocaust by becoming a Greifer, an informant for the Gestapo. She did this to save her own skin and the lives of her parents, and her activities sent between 600 and 3000 Jews to their deaths. She had been nicknamed “Blonde Poison” by the Gestapo for her efficiency in catching Jews to be subsequently slaughtered.
Even after the Gestapo double-crossed her and sent her parents to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt where they were executed, Stella was so deeply involved she continued her horrendous work taking great pleasure in her ability to trap those who trusted and confided in her. After the war, Stella converted to Christianity and was sentenced by a war crimes court to ten years in a labor camp because of her collaboration with the Nazis.
British playwright Gail Louw begins her play several decades later when Stella is preparing to be interviewed by a journalist who knew her when they were both schoolmates growing up. This is an event that actually occurred, and Louw draws significantly on Stella’s own words transcribed from that interview to give the play a ring of authenticity.
In this solo performance piece, Salome Jens portrays a woman whose beauty has not been significantly diminished by the passage of decades. The emotional depth of her performance will draw you into Stella’s life and make you realize that even her horrific behavior cannot be fully understood by those of us who were not alive in Germany at the time. Jens floats around the stage spouting off stream of consciousness stories through many years of Stella’s life, sharing her innocence, anger, horror, and the many great loves she endured, allowing us to see Stella as an ordinary person who just wanted to survive and found a way that worked for her.
That describes Ms. Jens as well, who has the enduring good looks of a star. If you’re a boomer, you’ll recall a period in the 1960s and 1970s when it seemed impossible to turn on the TV and not find her somewhere on the dial. She perhaps achieved her greatest national fame for a fifteen-episode run as a Shapeshifter on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and as a series regular in the supporting cast of the late-night cult hit serial “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” A veteran of ten productions on Broadway and many films, she is also revered for her stage work locally. Her collaborations with BLONDE POISON director Jules Aaron span a quarter century, and their symbiotic artistic vision carries the play into the depths of despair as well as the ultimate joys of womanhood.
The play asks the audience to consider what would you do to save your own life if you lived in such a persecuted time if an opportunity presented itself to you? This is not something we can answer – it is something you can only experience when put into those circumstances. How can anyone know in advance what you would do? And as such, how we can we judge Stella?
Playwright Louw is a non-observant Jew who lost her grandparents in the Holocaust. While I was lucky enough to know all four of my Eastern European grandparents who escaped and made it to the United States prior to 1930, many of their siblings and my great-grandparents did not. While watching the play, I could not help but think Stella could have been sending my relatives to their deaths, yet could I fault her for being resourceful and wanting to save her own life? Whether or not you have any personal connections to the Holocaust, such is the conundrum you will face while watching Salome Jens’ portrayal.