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A Personal Welcome to the Holocaust Theater Catalog

A Message from Arnold Mittelman

After a career in not-for-profit and commercial theater spanning more than 40 years I was honored in 2007 to found the National Jewish Theater / Foundation and in 2010 to assume leadership of its Holocaust Theater International Initiative.

Although theater has played an extraordinary role from the 1930s to today in Holocaust awareness and education, I was shocked to discover there was no comprehensive theater initiative that sought to make understood that body of work to Holocaust educators, officials, theatrical companies, students and the general public. Even though such different fields as nonfiction, memoir, music and film surrounding the Holocaust have all been well covered and researched, the exception of Holocaust-related theater was a glaring artistic void in our collective understanding. With no comprehensive infrastructure in place to promote the utilization of theater in its historic role as an instrument for social change and education, theater artists, Holocaust museums and scholars remained isolated in their efforts to shed light on the complexity of the Holocaust and its legacy. read more…

Many Questions and a Few Answers

by Robert Skloot

2022 NJTF HTII Lifetime Achievement Award
AHO Winter Conference, Miami, FL

I’d like to begin my remarks by asking the question that all of us have been asked often: “Why do you do the work you do?”

There are, of course, many answers, but I’d imagine that most of us would point to a sort of personal, necessary compulsion to spend time, and invite others to spend time, thinking about and feeling about one of the most tragic and influential events of human history. And because most of us are artists and scholars, we are obliged to use the skills and experiences we have to report on what we have learned,

Of course, much has been said and written about the importance of studying, teaching and performing our understanding of the Holocaust and even doing it with laughter; the best example of this were the Jews of Theresienstadt who performed music, cabaret and theatre as ways to resist the exterminatory mission of the Nazis. Doing this, they also preserved, and increased, the amount of Jewish culture that would be left as their legacy for us even if they didn’t survive.

Theatre, music, film, art and dance are today, because of you, the five fingers of the hand of this mission of ours, in doing what we do. Let’s just say that what we are doing is necessary for the health of our culture and our responsibilities to history.

read more…

Comments to the Association of Holocaust Organizations (AHO) Conference

Teresa Eyring
Executive Director Theatre Communications Group (TCG)
AHO Conference, Miami, FL

TCG is a national organization for theatre, based in New York. Our mission is to lead for a just and thriving theatre ecology. And we have numerous programs and services, such as conferences, research, publishing of plays, and American Theatre magazine, grantmaking, and federal advocacy.

My involvement in the NJTF Holocaust Theater International Initiative began at the very first meeting in Miami 10 years ago. I vividly remember that first meeting sitting around the table and hashing out how this new platform could work. And it is exciting to see a continuing commitment to the program and to utilizing the vast catalog of plays to ensure that the atrocities of the Holocaust are not forgotten or denied. read more…

Honoring Elie and Marion Wiesel for Their Plays

Elie Wiesel’s Plays as Kaddish: The Sacred Duty to Remember and Resist

By Prof. Lori R. Weintrob
Director, Wagner College Holocaust Center

This article is an expanded version of remarks presented by author in conjunction with the National Jewish Theater Foundation /Holocaust Theater International Initiative 3rd Annual Remembrance Day Play Reading program honoring Elie and Marion Wiesel

Elie Wiesel expressed faith in the power of dialogue, words spoken aloud, to be transformative. Urging survivors to speak and the next generation to listen, Elie Wiesel pledged “Whoever hears an eyewitness, becomes an eyewitness”(1). Wiesel first said these words in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem on the 57th anniversary of his liberation from Buchenwald concentration camp.  He then related how on the day of his liberation, he joined a group of Jewish adolescents in celebrating their freedom by saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.  An orphan at age 16, he had a sacred duty. Wiesel explained: ”I thought that this Kaddish would never end; it would last until we died, and in a way I was right.” The Kaddish prayer elevates the soul of the deceased, as the mourner calls upon the community to publicly affirm their faith.  Similarly, words of testimony spoken aloud turn us away from anger and hatred to God and man and indifference to the suffering of others, towards a shared ethic of faith and hope.

Wiesel believed in words spoken aloud—in testimony, prayer or theater—as a powerful motivating force against fascism and genocide.  His first staged performance, A Black Canopy, A Black Sky, and his other theatrical writings are vehicles to remember and resist indifference to others. A Black Canopy, A Black Sky, written for the 25th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising questioned why the world and God didn’t do more to aid the Jewish fighters, why they perished. In these works, as in the Kaddish prayer, “memory is a sacred duty,” a conversation with God reflecting responsibility for others (2). Like the Kaddish, theater can be a communal form of remembrance and a call to action and solidarity. read more…

NJTF HTII becomes part of UM MILLER CENTER

CLICK HERE to Download Press Release

HOLOCAUST THEATER INTERNATIONAL INITIATIVE BECOMES PART OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI’S SUE AND LEONARD MILLER CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAIC STUDIES.

Through research and educational programs, the Holocaust Theater International Initiative fills a void and is the only comprehensive universitybased initiative focused on the importance and relevance of holocaust-related theater.

CORAL GABLES, FL (January 19, 2017)

The National Jewish Theater Foundation (NJTF) and the University of Miami’s Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies (http://www.miami.edu/miller-center) have announced that the pioneering NJTF Holocaust Theater International Initiative (HTII) has become a part of the UM Miller Center, creating the first comprehensive university-based initiative of its kind.

The aim of the HTII is to advance research and educational programs – as well as to encourage theatrical productions – in support of its focus on the importance and relevance of Holocaustrelated theater in educating about, and commemorating the Holocaust.

Since 2007, the NJTF has presented theatrical works that celebrate the richness of Jewish heritage and culture. Under the leadership of Arnold Mittelman, its founder and president, the NJTF promotes the appreciation and preservation of Jewish musical and dramatic theatrical art. As one of the foremost performing arts organizations to focus exclusively on Jewish theater, NJTF is committed to educating the public on Jewish content and themes. NJTF productions are presented to diverse audiences across America and throughout the world. Please see www.njtfoundation.org. read more…

Theatrical Depictions of Survivor Stories

USC Shoah Foundation and National Jewish Theater Foundation Collaborate to Launch ‘This is What I’ve Scene,’ First Ever Theater-Related Activity To Be Provided to Students Worldwide Via IWitness Website

 

Click Here to Download Press Release

Los Angeles, Dec. 8, 2015 – USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education and the National Jewish Theater Foundation and its Holocaust Theater International Initiative have developed a new theater-based activity for the Institute’s IWitness website that guides secondary students to develop historical narrative monologues using testimonies of Holocaust survivors, witnesses and liberators.

Called “This is what I’ve ‘Scene’: Theatrical Depictions of Survivor Stories,” the activity was authored by the National Jewish Theater Foundation, which celebrates creativity and preserves Jewish culture in the performing arts.

Using the activity, students will construct a monologue, and learn how to dramatically enhance their presentation by creating and staging tableaus, which give the monologue added visual interest and help to illuminate the stories. read more…

On Resort 76: Jewish Drama and Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Evening By Bruce Cohen, MFA – the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater

During the month of October 2019, the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, Theatre and Dance Department will produce Resort 76, Shimon Wincelberg’s drama of the Lodz ghetto. The play will run concurrent with complementary scholarly programs on campus and within the community. During the run, Bella Bryks-Klein (daughter of Rachmil Bryks, author of the source material that Wincelberg adapted for his play script) will visit from Israel to speak and attend the production.

Nein! Zay musen vissen,” this quote is pulled from the afterward in the current print edition of A Cat in the Ghetto by Rachmil Bryks. The afterward is written by the author’s daughter, Bella Bryks-Klein. This particular quote, which she ascribes to her father, translates to, “No, they must know.” I include it here because of what it says in comparison to the oft repeated “never forget.” Both are strong statements, but Bryks’ admonition is aggressive and forward leaning. It prompts the question, what is next after we have not forgotten? Is it enough that we simply continue to remember?
read more…

NJTF Remembrance Readings Launched

On April 13, 2015 arts, educational and memorial organizations across the country united by participating in the first ever Remembrance Readings for Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). This event was conceived and launched by the National Jewish Theater Foundation (NJTF) as a way of harnessing the unique power of theater to remember the Holocaust, honor its victims, and foster subsequent conversations about lessons learned for future generations. It draws upon material from over the 600 plays made accessible in this catalog.

Participating organizations in this historic inaugural event include:

  • La Jolla PlayhouseIntelligence-Slave by Kenneth Lin
  • The Old GlobeThe Revisionist by Jesse Eisenberg
  • North Coast Repertory TheatreThe History of Invulnerability by David Bar Katz
  • Intrepid Theatre Company at Leichtag Foundation Ranch The Substance of Fire by Jon Robin Baitz
  • The Theatre School at De PaulGhetto by Joshua Sobol
  • Genesis Stage at the Illinois Holocaust and Museum Education CenterThe Last Cyclist by Naomi Patz
  • Theatrical Outfit at the Balzer TheatreThe Soap Myth by Jeff Cohen
  • Imagination StageNivelli’s Way by Charles Way
  • Untitled Theater Company #61 at Czech Embassy in conjunction with Israel Embassy – source: Performing Captivity and Beyond: Songs and Sketches from Terezin by Lisa Peschel
  • The Temple Emanu – El Skirball Center, co-presented by the Polish Cultural Institute New York – Our Class by Tadeusz Slobodzianek
  • Remember the Women at Center for Jewish History – Gretel Bergmann by Cynthia Cooper, Excerpts from In The Underworld by Germaine Tillion and Wild Wind Blows by Cynthia Cooper
  • Eastern Florida State CollegeI Never Saw Another Butterfly by Jewish children from Prague imprisoned in the model concentration camp Theresienstadt
  • Michal-Ann Russell Jewish Community CenterButterflies No Longer Live Here by Fernando Hurtado.

Arnold Mittelman, NJTF Founding President and Project Director of its Holocaust Theater International Initiative stated,  “I sincerely hope that Remembrance Readings engenders participation, education, identification and empathy that only live theater exemplifies and delivers in a profound way.  I hope that the use of theater in this manner and in education grows in years to come”.

Online Women, Theatre, and the Holocaust Resource Handbook

Published by Remember the Women Institute

by Rochelle G. Saidel

Remember the Women Institute published in April 2015 an online Women, Theatre, and the Holocaust Resource Handbook, available as a free downloadable PDF accessible from the website, www.rememberwomen.org. This handbook is one of the Institute’s projects dedicated to giving women their place in Holocaust history.

The 68-page Women, Theatre, and the Holocaust Resource Handbook has bibliographies with annotated hyperlinked descriptions of plays about women and the Holocaust, plays about the Holocaust by women, and related books. The plays listed range from those actually written during the Holocaust, some within concentration camps, to those being scripted and performed today. The handbook was written by Remember the Women Institute’s founder and executive director Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel and educational consultant Karen Shulman. There is an introduction by Dr. Saidel that provides details about the topic of women, theatre, and the Holocaust. read more…

Almost Lost

Reviving a Comedy Written in Terezín in 1944

By Naomi Patz

I’ve been obsessed with the cabaret called THE LAST CYCLIST for the past twenty years. Here’s how my involvement began: I had come home on a wintery Thursday morning in 1995 from meetings in Israel, jet-lagged and tired. My husband, Norman, who was for many years the rabbi of a synagogue in New Jersey, met me at the airport and told me he needed a big favor. Every four years our congregation hosted “Hagigah,” a regional creative arts weekend for high school students in the Reform Movement, and the conclave was beginning the next day. This year’s theme was to be the Jews of Czechoslovakia: the medieval period, especially stories of Rabbi Loew and the Golem, and the Holocaust years, with a particular emphasis on the unique creativity that took place in the Nazi concentration camp they named the Theresienstadt Ghetto, located in the Czech fortress town called Terezín.

A large part of the Hagigah program would focus on the production of a play to be performed by the drama workshop, with other workshops responsible for scenery, costumes, music and playbill and publicity. The difficulty was that the planners had expected to have a writing workshop create the play on which the rest would be working – which wouldn’t work, of course, because the other groups couldn’t begin until they had a script in hand. So what was the favor? Would I write the script – immediately? After being momentarily taken aback, I said yes. read more…

Press: From the Cleveland Jewish News

What Were They Thinking: Archiving Anne Frank

By: BOB ABELMAN

Playwrights did not begin to describe and interpret the Holocaust experience until a decade after the end of World War II. It takes time to heal, generate the strength to reflect, and find a clear and steady voice.

The most influential and lasting American effort was “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the 1956 adaptation of a young girl’s journal by two Hollywood screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. To a large extent, the play’s accessibility and popularity stem from its dramatic realism and the alluring thread of Anne’s innocence and optimism within the context of the atrocities occurring outside her secret annex.

CLICK HERE to read entire article >>

Reference Books

Enacting History:A Practical Guide to Teaching the Holocaust through Theater

Mira Hirsch, Janet E. Rubin, Arnold Mittelman, Routledge, 2020.

Dramatizing Survivor Trauma and its Effects on the Second Generation

Gene A. Plunka, Routledge, 2017.

Martin Sherman: Skipping over Quicksand

Tish Dace, Jefferson, NC, & London: McFarland, 2012.

Plays of the Holocaust: An International Anthology

Elinor Fuchs, Theatre Communications Group, First Edition edition, 1993

Stages of Annihilation: Theatrical Representations of the Holocaust

Edward R. Isser, Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997

Spectacular Suffering: Theatre, Fascism, and the Holocaust

Vivan M. Patraka, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999

Performing Captivity, Performing Escape: Cabarets and Plays from the Terezin/Theresienstadt Ghetto

Lisa Peschel with a Preface by Ivan Klíma, Seagull Books

Holocaust Drama: The Theater of Atrocity

Gene A. Plunka, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009 read more…

Holocaust Representation: Drama

by Robert Skloot

(From The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture, edited by Judith R. Baskin
Copyright © 2011 Judith R. Baskin. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.)

Playwrights did not begin to describe and interpret the Holocaust experience until a decade after the end of World War II. The most influential and lasting effort was the 1956 adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl by two Hollywood screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, the only survivor of the family, had given them permission to create a universal story from his daughter’s journal. Their play became a kind of American urtext for the Holocaust experience, one that was invisibly Jewish and ultimately optimistic, two reasons for the play’s seemingly inexhaustible popularity. The play, The Diary of Anne Frank, and its 1959 Hollywood film version have influenced all other dramatic representations of the Holocaust in the United States (see HOLOCAUST REPRESENTATION: FILM). In Europe, plays on Holocaust themes departed from the upbeat tone and generally realistic form favored by American playwrights. An early example is the prize-winning one-act play, Korczak and the Children (1957), by Erwin Sylvanus, a German war veteran; it recounts the story of a Holocaust hero, the Polish Jewish doctor-educator Janusz Korczak, through a chronologically disrupted, allegorical metatheatrical form. The impetus to depart from realism stemmed from the challenge of confronting the Holocaust in the countries where its devastation had occurred, together with the recognition that realism could not artistically portray the “concentrationary universe” in which millions of victims had been slaughtered. read more…

Why Bent Now (2014)?

By Tish Dace

Martin Sherman’s shattering Holocaust play Bent became the most-produced play worldwide written by an American during the 20th century’s last quarter. It receives productions 35+ years after its 1979 premiere at London’s Royal Court Theatre because bigots still slaughter or punish people who’re gay or “other.”

As of May 1, 2011, when the manuscript for my Martin Sherman: Skipping Over Quicksand went to press, 54 countries had seen Bent.

Conspicuously absent from the list which begins my Appendix A were Muslim countries, black Africa (save only South Africa), most of Asia, and dictatorships. Homophobia prevented mountings in the very countries which most would have benefitted from it, those countries where touching hearts might change minds. read more…

Survivors Still Active in Creating Witness Theater

The following links/articles describe projects taking place in 2014 that involve the participation of living survivors in the ongoing creation of Holocaust related theater. Survivor memories of events that they witnessed and lived are transformed by passionate artists supported by committed students into a unique type of drama.

Holocaust Stories Proves Therapeutic for Witness Theater >>

News From Beit Theresienstadt >>

(Please refer to pages 4-5)

 

Comments from an Israeli Director

My name is Avivit Shaked and I am an Israeli Theatre Director and group facilitator.

I’m working with groups of young pupils (in the 8th grade) and Holocaust Survivors. The name of the program is “Documentary Theatre for the Commemoration of the Holocaust in Israel”. In this program we are interacting young pupils with Holocaust survivors, so they can hear a firsthand testimony, as long as there are Holocaust Survivors left. These meetings are very touching. They enable a different kind of communication between generations. The meetings give the survivors—some for the first time in their lives—the opportunity to talk about what they have been through. For the pupils it is an experience that enables them to take responsibility and mature.

I got into this project as a 3rd generation of the Holocaust. I find it fascinating to work with older people, to hear testimony from a person that experienced an insane reality and one so difficult to understand or to accept. read more…

The Theatrical Representation of the Holocaust

by Juan Mayorga, Playwright

The image that many of us have of the Shoah is nurtured less from historians’ books than from artistic representations, some of which are offered by the theatre. This is not a new phenomenon. Many Athenians probably adopted the image of the Greeks’ victory against Xerxes presented by Aeschylus in “The Persians,” and many Spaniards of the 17th century likely accepted the image of the victory of the modern centralist state on the residual feudalist order offered by Lope de Vega in “Fuente Ovejuna.” Because its nature of bringing people together and, having therefore, a political character, theatre has been an especially apt medium to feed collective memories.

The theatre was more than likely the first medium used to record history. Before there was scripture or even speech, people used theatrics to share their experiences. Perhaps, the first man who saw fire mimicked his encounter with it to illustrate it to another man and he, in turn, to a third man, thus, at the same time, inventing theatre and history. In any case, no other medium presents the past in the present with the intensity of the theatre, such that individuals of another time are revived – reincarnated – by people here and now. If, in general, to use the terminology of Ortega y Gasset in his “The Idea of Theatre,” the actor disappears – he becomes transparent – so that the character can gain reality – visibility – such a transformation is basic to historical theatre in that the character created is not a product of the imagination but rather a real character from another time. The actor disappears in order to reveal a man who was and will be again during the play. read more…

Holocaust Theater: Representation or Misrepresentation

(This is a transcript of a speech given by Arnold Mittelman to Association of Holocaust Organizations on 1/10/12.)

I wish to thank Bill Shulman, President of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, and member of the National Jewish Theater Foundation/Holocaust Theater Archive Advisory Board, for inviting me to make this presentation to you, his constituents, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Facts are not the enemy of art, and art is not the enemy of facts. However, humankind often sees everything subjectively, even as we aspire to see the world objectively. Everything we see, touch, and feel is subject to individual interpretation. The late great Italian author Luigi Pirandello’s plays often examine how it is impossible to look at something truly objectively, since we are always looking at things subjectively through our own experience and understanding. And to a great extent, that is the power of theater: it has the ability to be seen individually and understood personally, defying all our collective attempts to view it objectively.

The aesthetic experience of the theatrical audience is to relate, not just to the live performance onstage, but to the reality and sense of each other’s presence. And therefore, although we are seeing the same performance together, we are never actually seeing the same collective performance because we all see the world differently. No wonder one person’s sense that a play is an accurate representation can be thought by another person to be a total misrepresentation. Such is Theater.
read more…

What the Survivor and Historian Know: Detente Between Those Who Lived the Shoah and Study It

by Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Director American Jewish University

Jeff Cohen’s The Soap Myth, as produced by the National Jewish Theater Foundation and directed by Arnold Mittleman, has brought to life on the New York stage the inherent tensions between Holocaust historians and Holocaust survivors over facts and interpretation of facts. Time and again, survivors speak of the Nazis’ making human fat into soap, while Holocaust historians say that, at best, there is insufficient evidence to support that claim.

When, during its creation, I was project director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I rejected the display of a cake of soap. So, too, did my colleagues at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and at Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland. Rather than go into the minutiae of detail regarding the soap, however, it is worthwhile to consider the relationship between survivor testimony and historical fact.

Elie Wiesel, the preeminent survivor, set the bar impossibly high: “Only those who were there will ever know, and those who were there can never tell.” Survivors’ testimony was privileged. They alone could know. Nothing could be said by my generation, born after the war; what could we know?

Yet, over time, we have come to understand each other better and perhaps to listen to one another more respectfully.
read more…

All About Jewish Theatre

The NJTF Holocaust Theater International Initiative wishes to recognize the Israel based website ALL ABOUT JEWISH THEATRE, Moti Sandak editor, for the development of their Holocaust Theatre On Line Collection. This publicly accessible compilation of articles, reviews and theatre works can be found at: All About Jewish Theatre

The Aftermath of War: Second Generation Performance Art

Dr. Susan Jacobowitz
Queensborough Community College
The City University of New York

A rock drops into the center of a pond. Ripples spread. Make that a flaming comet crashing into a boiling tar pit. A tidal wave ensues. Consider the Holocaust as that first event. Call the pit “Europe.” (“In the Beginning Was Auschwitz” B7)

– Melvyn Julies Bukiet

Performance art is a particular subset of second generation creative work that is still emerging from the tidal wave. It combines or fuses the project of depicting and understanding the Holocaust experience with bringing second generation experience into perspective. Like other second generation work, it involves research, imagination, re-creation and often an actual pilgrimage back to sites of memory or significance in Europe. For performance artists such as Deb Filler, Naava Piatka and Lisa Kron, it means depicting or actually embodying the parent whose story is being told. The work can be revealing and confrontational. Since Kron and Filler are comediennes, their pieces are often quite humorous as well. These are works that utilize multiple media: text, song, photography, comedy, performance. There is a strong experiential component for both the creator and the audience. These one-person plays and shows advance our understanding of the consequences and complexities of genocide.

Sonia Pilcer, whose The Holocaust Kid has been adapted into a one-woman show, writes of her parents, “I was their first seed of life after so much death. A living monument to their survival, a shrine to their murdered mothers. But I am not a Holocaust survivor. All that I survived was my childhood and my parents’ fierce, anxious love” (4). Melvyn Jules Bukiet uses his father’s concentration camp tattoo as identification for his bank account and as his signature—he inscribes a copy of his book for Helmut Kohl using the number 108016. Bukiet writes:

It would be disingenuous for me to claim that those six digits were the first I knew. Presumably I could count, but the artless aniline blue of 108016 tattooed on my father’s forearm was an abiding sign of the past in our present. It was his alone and then, as much as such a thing can ever be, it became mine, and now it’s yours; we can share (B10).

Second generation performance art participates in this project of sharing. read more…

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Views, reference and research of interest.

A Personal Welcome to the Holocaust Theater Catalog

A Message from Arnold Mittelman After a career in not-for-profit and commercial theater spanning more than 40 years I was honored in 2007 to found the National Jewish Theater / Foundation and in 2010 to assume leadership of its Holocaust Theater International...

Many Questions and a Few Answers

by Robert Skloot 2022 NJTF HTII Lifetime Achievement Award AHO Winter Conference, Miami, FL I’d like to begin my remarks by asking the question that all of us have been asked often: “Why do you do the work you do?” There are, of course, many answers, but I’d imagine...