God On Trial: a new 90-minute drama for BBC Two
Lorcan Cranitch plays the Blockaltester
An old hand, the Blockaltester (block master) was given the chance to take on the position as he speaks German. He's a roughly spoken prisoner with authority, scornful of the inmates and their beliefs, telling them that he is effectively God.
He is incredibly powerful in the day-to-day running as he distributes the soup. The blockaltester was often a criminal – a murderer, rapist or thief.
Lorcan Cranitch explains: "The Blockaltester translates as 'block elder' and more specifically as 'block master'. Because he was selected from the inmates to keep control in the blockhouse, he was immediately despised and hated within the block; the more so as the method of maintaining that order could at times be very brutal.
"Beatings seemed to be common and I read one report of an inmate being beaten to death. Corruption and blackmail were also common currency. Of course none of this mattered to the Nazis. It was because of these qualities that these blockaltesters were selected.
"In our story he was a convicted criminal (perhaps of murder) and thus was right for the job. Indeed I suppose that if he didn't do his job correctly (by whatever means he decided), the day of his own execution was nearer. It was of course very possible that he was Jewish, making him even more despised.
"To me therefore it seemed that his fight for survival (which was everyone's preoccupation) was informed by this hatred from his fellow inmates on the one hand, and being despised and ultimately dispensable by the Nazis.
"For him God had deserted, and he (the blockaltester) was 'doing the bastard's work for him'. In this place of terror his outward brutality and cynicism betrayed a man every bit as frightened as anyone else."
Lorcan hopes the drama will have a real impact on the audience: "To me the horrors of the Holocaust cannot be repeated often enough. I went to Auschwitz a couple of years ago, and as a monument of man's inhumanity to man, it's extraordinary.
"But Frank's script approaches the question from a different point – that of rational argument. Fascinating to do in such an irrational world. As an actor, its construction (with long speeches – not the stuff of modern TV) was a great gift. Why should people watch God On Trial? 'Lest we ever forget'."