'Did they die for you to forget?'
GVL / Hannah Mico. Marllory Caillaud-Jones (right) will be playing the role of Eva and Alaina Wilson (left) will be playing the role of Helga in the GVSU Theater’s production of “Kindertransport.”
For most people, it’s an accepted fact that six million Jews died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. But what is not widely discussed is the 10,000 children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who were saved because of the Kindertransport.
Grand Valley State University senior Amanda Furstenberg was interested in doing a play about the Holocaust for her senior honors project, so she approached professor and director Karen Libman with the idea. The two collaborated, discussed possibilities, picked several plays to read with a committee and as a group decided to share the story of the children.
“This was the one the students really liked the best. It was sort of the meatiest one and had some really great roles for students,” Libman said. “It was complicated, very artistic, it wasn’t just a straight story. There were a lot of metaphors in it and connections to things that are happening now.”
Although 10,000 is a small number compared to the millions who died, it is not insignificant, said said.
“These 10,000 were saved through the generosity of strangers and through the absolute selflessness of their parents who were willing to send them to a country alone where they didn’t speak the language and not know if they would ever see them again, and of course most of them didn’t, but their children survived,” Libman said.
After doing more research, she and Furstenberg found that this is the 75th anniversary of the rescue and that the Kindertransport Association had put together an exhibit that the university could rent. Everything started to snowball from there.
The play has become bigger than just a theater production; the Office of Multicultural Affairs, members of Hillel and the Honors College have all teamed up to help make this a community event.
“The university’s mission is to do outreach and connect the goings-on at Grand Valley to the greater community, and of course in this way we’re also connecting to the larger world community,” Libman said.
As preparation for the stage production, many members of the cast took a trip to Farmington Hills, Mich., to visit its Holocaust Museum and hear from a survivor. They also had the chance to hear the story of John Rosen, a Kindertransport survivor who recently spoke to students on campus.
Furstenberg, who plays Faith, the daughter of Kindertransport survivor, said the experiences were insightful even though her character was not actually one of the children on the train.
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it would’ve been like and how I would’ve dealt with surviving knowing the rest of my family didn’t,” she said.
Faith is a young girl who is dealing with her parents’ divorce by digging into her mother’s past for answers. She knows that her mom was adopted but is unaware of her former life in Germany or her escape from the Holocaust.
“For me, I’ve spent more time thinking about the person playing my mom because there’s a reason she didn’t tell my character, Faith, what happened. I’ve been trying to see her side of it and trying to portray that with Faith a little bit,” Furstenberg said.
The audience will get to see Faith and her mother, Evelyn, played by senior theater major Alyssa Simmert, during the 1980s in Great Britain as well as during flashbacks to the 1930s when the Kindertransport took place.
“Evelyn’s very repressed… She tries to pretend like none of it ever happened to her, mostly for the sake of herself but for the sake of her daughter, as well,” Simmert said. “She doesn’t want her daughter involved in any of the past. She doesn’t want anything to do with it.”
Instead of forgetting like Simmert’s character attempts to do, Furstenberg said people need to keep the memories alive.
“Faith has a line that I really love; she asks her mom, ‘Did they die for you to forget?’ and that’s just really powerful,” Furstenberg said. “It’s like, why’d they die? You have to keep remembering them otherwise their death was for nothing.”
The purpose of the play is to educate people and get them to think not only about the Holocaust, but about discrimination and prejudice that is still taking place today, Libman said.
“The best kind of art entertains you and is also thought-provoking in some way, and I think the play will be that for people—both entertaining and thought-provoking, making you wonder what you would’ve done in this situation and how would you have reacted,” she said.
The play will take place Nov. 15 through 17 and Nov. 21 through 23 in the Louis Armstrong Theatre in the Performing Arts Center.
“I think people will enjoy the production, even if it’s somewhat sobering,” Libman said. “I love the idea that the play doesn’t give a pat answer to questions of identity and what to do with a past that was problematic. It would be so easy to make things up, but the situation wasn’t easy, and the playwright doesn’t dumb down the story.”
Tickets are $12 for adults; $10 for faculty, staff, alumni and seniors; and $6 for all students and groups of 10 or more. For more information, call the GVSU box office at 616-331-2300 or visit www.gvsu.edu/theatre.