“We are at a turning point in the entire field of Holocaust Education and Remembrance as we are moving all too quickly from living history to historical memory. Each day survivors, and the moral authority they represent, leave this earth and with them the richness of memory. Theater production and related Holocaust educational programs utilizing theater exercises have an immediacy that can make these events and their recollection come alive again.”
Since 2007, the National Jewish Theater Foundation (NJTF) has created and internationally presented, numerous theatrical works that advanced its mission of celebrating the richness of Jewish theatrical heritage and cultural identity. One of the foremost performing arts organizations focusing exclusively on Jewish theater, NJTF (njtfoundation.org) is committed to educating a diverse public on Jewish artistry, history, and its ongoing relevance.
In 2010 NJTF leaders launched the Holocaust Theater International Initiative (HTII). HTII examines from 1933 through the present, how one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish and World history has been made more understandable through the insights, creativity, and courage of Jewish theater artists and others of differing backgrounds. Before HTII there was no comprehensive theater initiative that gathered and made available that body of work to researchers, scholars, students, theatrical companies and the general public. In 2017 the HTII, overseen by a renowned advisory board composed of Theater Advocates and Holocaust Scholars become part of the University of Miami Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies. HTII is the only university-based program in the world focusing solely on research, education, and production of Holocaust-related theater. Theater, with its power to engage and its unique ability to engender empathy and identification, can and must provide a moral compass for the future.
HTII is comprised of three interrelated programs: research, education and production.
(1) Holocaust Theater Research (HTR): created the Holocaust Theater Catalog, the first of its kind, online catalog containing the names of plays in all languages from 1933 to the present with user specific informative entries. Intended for students, scholars, theater artists, teachers and the general public, this dynamic and growing catalog of over 850 selected titles with over 5,000 related entries and curated collection of learned articles can be accessed thru our public website online at the University of Miami Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies (htc.miami.edu). HTR will work with translators and researchers to identify the finest of these plays, currently in foreign languages, to be recommended for translation and production.
(2) Holocaust Theater Education (HTE): is the development of theatrically related curricula, study guides and exercises for use at the primary, secondary and higher education levels. HTE with USC Shoah Foundation developed and disseminates thru its IWitness program ”What Ive Scene” the only theatrical activity on the IWitness platform. It uses verbatim testimony as the basis for a classroom theatrical exercise available to their thousands of teachers worldwide. HTE develops innovative ways to reach the students of today and tomorrow with programs that convey not only the history of the Holocaust but its relationship to the contemporary challenges facing young people. By using our student to student theater technique HTE will create opportunities for them to deliver a message of understanding that can be applied in today’s world. HTII staff, advisory board and experts are creating a classroom resource guide of Holocaust theater related activities for the general teacher to be published by UK based Routledge Press.
(3) Holocaust Theater Production (HTP): features annual Remembrance Day Play Readings and performances of different Holocaust plays selected from the HTC. These readings or performances are held in honor of Kristallnacht, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaShoah. Engaging theaters, artists, educators and memorial museums, 2016/17 participants were from 11 cities and states including Washington, DC: New York City, NY: San Diego, CA and Chicago, Ill. In 2017 HTP honored Elie Wiesel for his own plays with Remembrance Readings of them across America and at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. Mr. and Mrs. Wiesel were awarded the NJTF/HTII Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the Lincoln Center Reading. Other 2017 highlights included the involvement of actor Ed Asner doing national readings of the NJTF/HTII produced and critically acclaimed off Broadway production of The Soap Myth by Jeff Cohen, directed by Mr. Mittelman. In 2018 HTP worked with the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Holocaust Education Trust to create ongoing Remembrance Readings in London.
The NJTF/HTII by virtue of its 3 components, renowned Advisory Board, staff, supporters and partners endeavors to fill an existing void and provides a critically needed entryway to the intersection of Holocaust scholarship, education and theater arts. Through the use of both technology and live performance, it will bring together diverse communities to engage on issues pertaining to the Holocaust at a time when our first and immediate connection to these atrocities, the ultimate witness, the living survivors, are quickly disappearing.