More than half a century after the end of the Third Reich, the Shoah still reverberates in the lives of the survivors’ grandchildren. In Dana Boll’s new play, “Bella’s Dream,” based on the refugee experiences of her paternal grandparents, memories of the Holocaust keep seeping and bleeding into the present.
Set in a Tamarac, Fla., supermarket, where the different aisles become gateways to the past, “Bella’s Dream” comes at a time when the grandchildren of survivors are coming to the fore in terms of Holocaust remembrance. The title of the play, which begins performances this week on the Lower East Side, comes from a dream that Boll’s grandmother had that impelled her and her husband to flee from Poland.
The playwright grew up in Toms River, N.J., as the only child of a Jewish father and Catholic mother. Her paternal grandfather was a butcher in Gombin, which was overrun by the Nazis in 1939. Because he spoke fluent German and had blonde hair and blue eyes, he was able to pass for a Nazi; this helped the couple to cross borders during a harrowing odyssey that took them first on a cattle car to Siberia, then to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and finally to Northern New Jersey.
Directed by Jessica Ammirati, “Bella’s Dream,” which runs 90 minutes, incorporates eight dances, along with popular music, historical images and recorded political speeches. In a pivotal scene in the play, the character based on Boll’s father clobbers a neo-Nazi who is spewing anti-Semitism at the kosher deli counter of the Winn-Dixie — an episode that points, for Boll, to the volatile mixture of grief and rage that still characterizes the lives of so many Holocaust survivors’ children.
In an interview, Boll told The Jewish Week that, as the grandchild of survivors, “I’m more removed. It’s more of a mythology for me, as opposed to my father.” The children of survivors “saw the wounds first hand,” she said, and their parents’ stories become, for grandchildren, “filtered with more years of being able to process them.”
Boll, who is active with the 3GNY (Third Generation New York) organization of more than 1,000 grandchildren of Holocaust survivors in the metro area, takes particular pride in her involvement with WEDU (We Educate), the 3GNY program that teaches secondary school children about the Holocaust.
“They say that it takes seven generations for a trauma to be healed,” Boll noted. But she added that she feels a “specific reverence and pressure to live my life to the fullest because of what my grandparents went through.”
“Bella’s Dream” runs through June 30 at the Clemento Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center, 107 Suffolk St. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, $18, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit goingtotahitiproductions.com.