by Diane Samuels
March 24 - April 15, 2000
Directed by Hal Kohlman
As the Nazi Party rose
to power in Germany in the 1930's, Jews were systematically deprived of
all basic human rights. Their German citizenship was revoked. They were
prohibited from activities as simple as driving, and from attending public
entertainments. And in 1938, thousands of Jewish businesses and homes were
destroyed in the maelstrom of Kristallnacht.
When the first 30,000
Jews were detained and placed in concentration camps, the Movement for the
Care of Children from Germany was formed in England. The rescue operation
known as "Kindertransport," would see nearly ten thousand
unaccompanied Jewish children travel from Germany to England where they
would settle into English families that wanted to help. Of
course, most never saw their homeland or their parents again. It is
estimated that some 2,500 Kinder eventually immigrated to North America.
Ms. Samuels sets most
of her story in an attic storeroom of a suburban London home in 1979 with
a few scenes set in Germany in 1939. Past and present are intertwined
throughout the play, which has three sets of mothers and daughters. The
play opens with Eva, a young German Jewish girl and her mother packing for
the girl's escape to England.
immediately, the action moves to 1979 where a young Englishwoman, Faith,
has decided to leave home, and her stiff reserved mother Evelyn and
grandmother are helping her pack. As the play shifts subtly between past
and present, we see the young Jewish girl grow up and assimilate into
British culture, and we see Faith discover family secrets, and then
confront her mother and grandmother.The plot explores such themes as
mother-daughter relationships, survivor guilt, and loss of identity.
very theatrical spark in the naturalistic drama is the playwright's
skillful use of a children's fairy tale character, "The Ratcatcher,"
which is a German variation of the Pied Piper. The mythical Ratcatcher
becomes various authority figures, such as a Nazi border official, a train
station guard, and an English postman.
Diane Samuels, an
Englishwoman, interviewed a number of the Kinder as part of her research for the
play. She writes: "They were all very open about their lives and feelings.
Many of their actual experiences are woven into the fabric of the play. Although
Eva/Evelyn and her life are fictional, most of what happens to her did happen to
someone somewhere." She dedicates the play to the Jewish Kinder who caught
the trains in 1938-39.
"Never again," has been the rallying cry of Holocaust survivors,
but the Kindertransport repeats more often than most would wish. In
October of 1961, for instance, the Catholic Church arranged to airlift
14,000 Cuban children to Miami in order to avoid religious persecution
under Castro. While political and social circumstances are vastly
different between these two events, one thing remains constant - parents
that willingly deliver their children to the care of strangers with no
hope of reunification. When I first read this play, I knew that it was not
so much about the Holocaust as about parents and children, the long
journey they take together and apart, and the deeper meanings of heritage
and what is passed on.
To learn more, visit the Kindertransport
Association web site.