3/1/2020 AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME ... Georgia Ensemble Theatre Family Stage
In 1985, Claude Lanzmann's epic documentary Shoah (the Hebrew name for the Holocaust) was released. Over 9 hours of "talking heads," survivors of the Holocaust telling their stories, it remains one of the most powerful and absorbing films ever made (to paraphrase a Roger Ebert comment about exceptional long films, it may be nine hours long, but it's also nine hours deep).
I bring this up as an intro to my comments on James Still's And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, because, like that film, this play is really an oral history. And though it may be only 60 minutes long, it feels "many hours deep."
Eva Geiringer and Helmuth Silberberg were friends with Anne Frank and appear as characters in her diary (Helmuth is the infamous "Hello" Anne Frank counted as a friend, one of her "beaux.") Unlike Anne, Eva and Helmuth survived the war, though not without loss and travail, and this play, a combination of filmed interviews with the elderly Eva and Helmuth (now "Ed" Silverberg) and recreated scenes from their lives. Yes, Anne Frank is a mere supporting character here, but an affecting and moving one.
Like Anne and her family, Eva, her brother and her parents lived for years in hiding in Amsterdam, before being captured and sent to Auschwitz. Eva's mother eventually married Otto Frank, so Eva and Anne were, on paper, "step-sisters." Helmuth and his family eventually escaped to Belgium, where they were reunited and remained in hiding until liberated by the Allies.
Eva married and had three children and a gaggle of grandchildren. Ed also married and had children and grandchildren. Anne, of course, died at fifteen and had no children or grandchildren.
I bring these legacies up, because it is relevant to an historical policy of the Nazis of which I was unaware (until I first saw this play last year) -- the focus on the killing of the Jewish young. Eva escaped such a fate by appearing older than her actual age due to wearing layers of coats during the post-transport "culling" of her group. Part of the "Final Solution," it was an organized effort to exterminate the "Next Generation" of Jewry.
Georgia Ensemble Family Stages has been producing this piece for over twenty years now for middle and high schools, reaching an estimated 500,000 students. This is the second time I've seen it, and I found it even more effective for my familiarity with it. It is an exceptionally powerful piece, both for the stark and harsh scenes recreated by the actors, and for the relative equanimity with which the real Eva and Ed tell their stories. For some reason, this year it “felt” tighter,” more urgent. The actors treat the video clips as fellow actors, making them even more integral to the immediacy of their stories.
And, as in ALL of this season's Family Stage Series, this cast really hits every note right. I had seen these same actors a day earlier in Tuck Everlasting and was even more impressed with them now; their range is so much more evident when seeing them excel in such different back-to-back plays. Eva and Helmuth are played by Maddie Steele and Ryan Duda with an intensity that is almost mind-boggling. Ms. Steele is not afraid to show us Eva's "whiny spoiled tween" side, which makes her trials even more compelling. Adam Hobbs shows a nice contrast as Eva's brother, Heinz and an enthusiastic Hitler Youth who just can't understand why his Fuhrer's wonderfully wrought world eventually falls apart. Kayla McCaffrey makes some nice contrasting choices as both Eva’s Mutti and Helmuth’s mother. If Allen Dillon semi-sorta “disappears into the background” as both fathers, he nevertheless is an asset to this company. Patricia de la Garza compelling portrait of Anne Frank proves that her wonderful Winnie Foster was no fluke, echoing that same youthful energy and take-no-prisoners intensity.
This piece is well-directed by Mary Saville, who keeps the transitions from action to video to narration smooth and clear. And the set -- really "Bulletin Boards" of photos and banners and a few set pieces -- helps tell the story well and powerfully.
We are living in a time in which the Legacies of the Holocaust are being gradually lost and forgotten, when the tactics of propaganda and disinformation are central to political strategy from across the spectrum, tactics we can be blind to when coming from “our side.” We are losing survivors to age -- Ed Silverberg passed away in 2015 and Eva Geiringer is over 90 -- and Holocaust denial is experiencing a resurgence. (*) We owe it to humanity to preserve these legacies, to not forget what led to these atrocities. and to fight those urges in ourselves to objectify "people not like us" or people we just don't like.
I think it’s unfortunate that this play had only one (almost sold-out) public performance. You owe it to yourself to look for it when it returns in 2021, or when it visits your local school.
We owe it to ourselves to Never Forget.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #GETFSAndThenTheyCameForMe)
* Just to illustrate the importance of this message, here is a late addition to Ms. Geiringer’s Wikipedia Page:
“During a March 2019 book tour in Orange County, California, [Eva Geiringer] Schloss met with a group of Newport Harbor High School students, parents and staff members. The prior week, students from Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools gave Nazi salutes as they posed for photos at a party in front of cups arranged in the shape of a swastika while playing a variation of beer pong. Schloss talked to the students about her experience in the Holocaust when she was around their ages in an effort to educate them on the implications of the imagery they used.”