Auschwitz Lullaby is a story of human strength and survival instinct
Release Date: 1/19/2007. Expired: 2/3/2007
The strength of human beings and their instinct to survive in even the most horrible situations is the core of the story of Auschwitz Lullaby, but the individual conflicts within each character relate to the many choices people have to make every day.
Presented by the Mind Enriching Theatre series at The Renaissance Center, Auschwitz Lullaby is a powerful story based on actual events of the Holocaust taken from the diaries of European Jews interned in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The award-winning play by James C. Wall will be presented in one public performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for seniors and children under 13. Due to mature themes, the show is not recommended for young children.
“It’s important for people to remember what has happened in our past and not-so-recent past,” said Hal Partlow, managing director of the MET series and director of Auschwitz Lullaby. “I feel it’s important to educate young people about what’s happened in the world good or bad.”
The MET series is presenting Auschwitz Lullaby for school field trips Jan. 30-April 13 for grades 6-12.
The play tells the story of Dr. Isaac Jonah, a Hungarian Jew who is interned at Auschwitz in Poland along with his wife and daughter. Forced to work in the lab of sadistic Nazi Josef Mengele, Jonah searches for strength in dealing with the “guilt of being alive” as well as the feeling of total helplessness as he witnesses thousands of his fellow Jews being put to death.
Jonah’s internal struggles and fears for the well being of his family are further tested when he is asked to help in the escape of a 16-year-old girl who has miraculously survived the Nazi gas chamber that claimed the rest of her family. Jonah weighs the safety of his own family against the life of this one innocent girl and the possible retribution his actions could bring on his own people.
“He’s every one of us. He’s courageous, he’s afraid, he’s overwhelmed,” said Paul Kerr, the actor who plays Jonah. “At first all he can think about is how to protect his family, then he realizes exactly who is family really is.”
Veteran performer Amy Scott plays Jonah’s wife, Miriam, in her second production at The Renaissance Center related to the Holocaust, having appeared in the 2002 production of And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, also directed by Partlow.
While she portrays a mother imprisoned in a camp in both shows, Scott said she finds Auschwitz Lullaby to be much more emotional in its depiction of life in the camps.
“No one was ever safe in Auschwitz,” Scott says. “This show concentrates on how people survived.”
Two characters that especially embody the different lengths to which people will go for their own survival are Jacob “Canada” Tannenbaum and Eva Vacek.
Tannenbaum, played by Ryan Hunt, is a camp prisoner best known for his scrounging skills, which make him valuable not only to his fellow Jews but to the Nazis as well.
“This is much more about survival. My character has much more control because he knows how to work the system,” Hunt said. “Fear is the reason he does what he does. Everybody has a way to survive and that’s his way.”
Despite being a prisoner herself, Vacek, played by Anna Hammonds, is given authority among the inmates as a kapo, a kind of trusty/informant for the Nazis. The play reveals incidents in her life even prior to being interned that led her into a path of self-preservation.
“This character came to so many crossroads in her life previous to the concentration camp,” Hammonds said, “events that almost forced her hand in choosing evil. None of her acts are justified, but they are almost understandable as definitely a survival instinct. She is perhaps a true representation of what did happen to many people in the camps.”
Alex Dittmer plays Capt. Hans Gunter, a German businessman turned Nazi officer who chooses not to recognize the human cost of his actions, but only views the overall war as a business and his role in the camp as middle management. Gunter’s weakness, an arm crippled in an accident, leaves him less than the ideal Aryan of Hitler’s Germany and he compensates to work for his survival by blindly following orders.
“Hans Gunter is an opportunist. He worked in a manufacturing firm and had marginal success. In the camp he looks at things from a business perspective and not the humanistic point,” said Dittmer. “He doesn’t want to know anything about the victims and refuses to admit that his actions lead to people’s deaths. He even tells Jonah ‘I don’t kill people, I run a crematorium.’ There is a certain moral ambiguity to his nature in that he rationalizes everything in a business sense and nothing is his fault.”
At the center of the plot is 16-year-old Lena, played by Katherine Jett, who is found alive among the bodies of 3,000 Jews in the gas chamber and is hidden by Tannenbaum and Jonah while they hatch a plot to get her out of the camp. She represents the lives and hopes the prisoners had before their internment and the innocence of the more than 6 million Jews who perished in the concentration camps.
“Lena is that tiny little bit of hope that all the prisoners in Auschwitz are holding on to,” said Jett. “Also, their desire to get her free would be a victory for all the people. Keeping her alive is the only way to get one up on the Nazis. Canada even has a speech after they find her alive in the gas chamber that the Nazis killed all those people but ‘not her, she beat them.’”
It is Lena’s chance for survival that forces the other characters into making courageous, dangerous and even deadly decisions, facing their own weaknesses, fears and illusions of what life should be like.
“All theatre should create some sort of empathy for the characters with the audience,” Partlow said. “It is my hope that the audience will understand the difficult decisions that people have to make when they are in situations we can’t imagine. I hope they will better understand the strength of human beings.”
Following the Feb. 3 performance of Auschwitz Lullaby, there will be a panel discussion that will include survivors of the concentration camps. Some of these survivors also will be available to meet with school groups that come to The Renaissance Center to see the play.
For more information or to schedule a field trip performance of Auschwitz Lullaby, call (615) 740-5533.
To purchase tickets for the Feb. 3 public performance, call (615) 740-5572.
The Renaissance Center is a fine arts and technology education and performing arts center at 855 Highway 46 South in Dickson, just 35 miles west of Nashville on Interstate 40 at exit 172.
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