3/10/2018 AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME ... Georgia Ensemble Family Stage Series
****½ ( A )
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 now) -- 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. This is the first time I've seen it, but it will hopefully not be the last (though this was its final public performance. This year. Would I be out of line in suggesting that GET should offer more than two public performances of this?) 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.
And, as in ALL of this season's Family Stage Series, this cast really hits every note right. Eva and Helmuth are played by Alex Hubbard and Jacob Jones with an intensity that is almost mind-boggling. Ms. Hubbard, in particular, is not afraid to show us Eva's "whiny spoiled tween" side, which makes her trials even more compelling. Christopher Holton shows a nice contrast as Eva's brother, Heinz" AND an enthusiastic Hitler Youth who just can't understand why his Futhrer's wonderfully wrought world eventually falls apart. Amy Levin is a convincing and warm Mutti, Eva's mother and companion. And Dayanari Umaña is simply tremendous as Anne, even looking a bit like her.
This piece is well-directed by Erin Bushko, 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. We are losing survivors to age -- Ed Silverberg passed away in 2015 and Eva herself is now almost 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.
We owe it to ourselves to Never Forget.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #GETAndThenTheyCameForMe)