“Everybody’s got a story,” said Holocaust survivor and Louisville resident Fred Gross during an address marking Kristallnacht before the public performance of CenterStage Acting Out’s production of And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank in the JCC’s Linker Auditorium on Tuesday, November 10.
The tale we know best is that of Anne Frank, the world’s icon of innocence lost in the Holocaust. But there are thousands of other lesser known Jewish teenagers who faced the terror.
At the show, which has been touring area schools, an audience of all ages got acquainted with Auschwitz survivor Eva Geiringer Schloss and Ed Silverberg – formerly known as Helmut Silberberg – two German teens who knew Anne, also went into hiding and have their own stories to tell.
Unlike Anne, Ed and Eva got out alive.
Silverberg was Anne’s boyfriend for a brief time, and Eva was friends with her. Eva’s mother married Anne’s father Otto after the war.
The play, written by Pulitzer-winning writer James Still and based on a memoir about Geiringer, uses a very unique and effective storytelling technique.
The teenage Geiringer and Silverberg are played by Cathy Wethersby and James Thompson, and as adults by Carol Dines and Larry Singer. Each actor in the ensemble, which also includes Dathan Hoop, plays multiple roles.
The adult Eva and Helmut tell their tales in the actual words of the real Eva and Helmut, as the teen versions act out the stories. Anne Frank, played by Maggie Patten, is also a character. Anne is portrayed as vivacious and a bit boy crazy. Her chaste courtship with Helmut is the most delightful part of the show. In one sweet scene, Helmut recalls how Anne would lean forward with her hands under chin when talking to him, and we see her doing it.
The play is also filled with frightening moments that are difficult, but important to watch.
For instance, it was harrowing to observe a teenage Eva cringing and crying as she’s fiercely interrogated by a shrill Nazi and told how her brother, Heinz, will be tortured if she doesn’t spill secrets that don’t even exist.
“They had enough horror in their voices. It was very emotional. They portrayed it very well,” Louisville resident and Holocaust survivor Ann Dorzback said of the performance. Dorzback escaped from Germany in 1939. Survivor Gila Glattstein also attended the play.
Perhaps the saddest moment of the show comes at the end, when a wall of photos of a lovely, exuberant Anne Frank is revealed, and Patten stands next to it.
“It’s a tough show to do,” Patten said. “You really have to take yourself out of it and just act or else you’ll fall apart.”
The Tuesday performance was held on the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass,” and the play was preceded by a few presentations commemorating the anniversary.
On Kristallnacht, Nazis murdered and arrested Jews on the streets all over Germany, shattered windows of Jewish businesses and burned synagogues to the ground. It was the worst public demonstration against the Jews up to that point, and a harbinger of the horrors to come.
Fred Gross shared pieces of his family’s journey across Europe escaping the Nazis, and expressed his gratitude for surviving.
“What can I say? I’m lucky to be alive,” Gross said. He documented his full story in One Step Ahead of Hitler, which was published several years ago.
Gross said the synagogue where his parents were married and his father had his bar mitzvah ceremony was set on fire on Kristallnacht, and that the massacre affected every Jew in Europe.
Following Gross’ address, Adath Jeshurun’s Cantor David Lipp performed two verses of the haunting Dachau Lied, or Dachau Song, a composition by Dachau prisoners and fierce arts advocates Herbert Zipper and Jura Soyfer.
Lipp explained that Zipper played with the idea of turning the twisted Nazi mantra Arbeit Macht Frei, which means, work makes you free, into an unlikely source of empowerment.
As he strummed his guitar, Lipp’s soaring voice sang:
But we have learned the solution of Dachau
And became as hard as steel
Be a man, comrade
Stay a human being, comrade
Do a good job, get to it, comrade
For work, work makes you free.