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.
Additionally, many young people and adults are misinformed about events surrounding the Holocaust because of little or no education on the subject. According to The Task Force for International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a report on their website states that only five U.S. states have mandated the teaching of the Holocaust in their schools. Although there are additional states that have regulations encouraging or recommending Holocaust education there are still many young people and adults worldwide who do not know the basic facts about the Holocaust, or, at worst, deny its existence. It is through contact with the arts in general and theater specifically that many people may gain additional knowledge about the Holocaust and develop an understanding of the roots of anti-Semitism and bigotry.
More tragically, Holocaust survivors are aging and dying, thereby silencing their voices forever. We have recordings of their stories, but nothing can replace the experience of hearing them live. Without them at center stage there is a danger that the Holocaust will recede into history. Theater, however, has the power to congregate people of all ages to contemplate a subject and illuminate the continued relevance of historical events and tragedies. It will be left up to theater artists, both in the U.S. and abroad, to generate even more relevant and important works, and continue to tell the stories of the people we have lost. And from those plays, create an understanding of our moral responsibility to act.
We see a Holocaust play or teach the Holocaust by using theater training exercises, and we learn about tragic events that help us recognize the danger signs of power abuse and destructive policies. We study the Holocaust to understand and fight violence, intolerance and bigotry at every level of society. Unfortunately, such abominations continue today. Our greatest tools for fighting back are participation, information and education that theater exemplifies and delivers in a profound way. I hope that users of this site will come away enriched, informed and motivated to use the production of Holocaust theater in all its manifestations as a tool for the public good.