Elevate Difference

Silence Not, A Love Story

Everyone loves a love story, especially one with a happy ending, and award-winning playwright and journalist Cynthia L. Cooper’s latest play, a forty-four-scene two-act, is a whopper. Silence Not, A Love Story tells the improbable tale—based on a true story—of Gisa Peiper, a young Jewish student stifled by religious Orthodoxy, and Paul Konopka, a Catholic craftsman, who met in late-1920s Germany while working with the anti-fascist International Socialist Combat League, known as the ISK. It was not love at first sight, but it was close, bolstered by each individual’s ironclad commitment to social justice and human rights.

Their organization, Cooper writes in the play’s Prologue, “was made up of pacifists and humanitarians. Politically, the group was strongly opposed to communism, but deeply committed to the labor movement… Members of the ISK studied political issues through group analyses and Socratic questioning, and they believed that action must follow understanding.” Members ran a school and published a newspaper; they were also encouraged to follow a vegetarian diet, avoid alcohol and spend time outdoors, hiking and enjoying the natural world. By all accounts the ISK was bold and members routinely put themselves in harm’s way. Peiper and Konopka were especially fearless and took incredible risks to publicize the danger posed by newly appointed German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.

From his first utterances as a national leader, Peiper and Konopka attempted to activate German citizens to oppose him and his fascist Nazi Party and Peiper’s reporting for the ISK press acknowledged the threat. People, she wrote, knew what Hitler and the Nazis stood for before they came to power. “Their terror tactics showed in street fights, in writings, in threats…The demeaning and torturing of anyone resisting them started immediately after January 1933. Fear pervaded the country. Everybody knew about the terror. It was also known outside of Germany.”

But breaking through angst is no easy feat and Silence Not, A Love Story includes riveting depictions of the general public’s go-along-to-get-along capitulation to Hitler’s demands. Not surprisingly, Konopka ended up on Nazi radar and, in short order, was forced to flee Germany and continue his underground agitation from France. Peiper eventually joined him, but not before being jailed for her pro-democracy efforts.

After the war, the pair moved to the United States. They married in 1941, 12 years after meeting, and remained together until Konopka’s death in 1976. Peiper became a social worker, writer and professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work and her long career as a youth advocate was dedicated to fostering human dignity. Her message was constant. We must never forget the millions of people whose lives were cut short by the Nazis. What's more, she served as a living rebuttal to Holocaust deniers and fascist apologists until her death in 2003.

Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, in an introduction to Silence Not, puts Peiper and Konopka’s lives in context: “For Gisa Peiper, and for Rosa Parks and the civil rights activists, their very humanity lay in their acts of resisting evil. They could no more remain passive, removed, and quiescent than they could stop breathing… Without those who stand up for justice, where would the rest of us be?”

After this summer’s murder of Dr. George Tiller and Holocaust Museum guard Stephen Johns, this question seems particularly resonant.

Written by: Eleanor J. Bader, September 24th 2009