How much suffering can a person bear? Suzanne Tanner’s “Beyond Me: A Song Cycle in the Key of Survival” is a one-woman multimedia show based on the tragic experiences of Rachel Goldman Miller, a Parisian Jewish Holocaust survivor who lost her parents, sister and two brothers to the Nazis, and then, after coming to America and starting a new life, lost a son to AIDS. The play runs next Saturday evening at the United Solo Festival in Midtown.
Miller, who was born in Paris in 1933, was sent to the country at the age of 7 to live with a Catholic family. While her sister was waiting for a birthday present to arrive in the mail, their apartment was raided and the family members taken to different work camps; they were all ultimately deported to Auschwitz.
After coming to America, getting married, and having two sons, Miller faced tragedy again in 1992 when her younger son, Mark, died of AIDS. Tanner met Miller, who now lives in St. Louis, through an AIDS quilting project that Tanner organized in Los Angeles when she was working at Warner Brothers.
In an interview, Tanner, who was raised Catholic, told The Jewish Week that when she started working on the musical more than a decade ago, she “couldn’t imagine that an individual could suffer such depths of despair.” Many of the songs center on changing colors, such as “New Day, New Life,” sung when Miller crosses the ocean and sees the “hopes and hues” in the sky, and wonders if her own life, which has been drained of color, will ever be “vibrant” and “vivid” again. Tanner, who lost her own 12-year-old daughter, Tess, in a car crash in 2011, is now working on a musical about Tess’ life.
Ronald Rosbottom, who teaches French at Amherst College and is the author of the just-published book, “When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944” (Little, Brown), said that Miller’s story is “pretty typical” of those Parisian Jews who survived through a combination of “luck, nice Gentiles, and moving constantly.” While many French Jews thought that they were immune, immigrant Jews like Miller’s father, who was Polish, were “immediately in trouble,” Rosbottom noted, when the Germans invaded Paris.
Seven decades after the German occupation, Rosbottom said, the French are still coming to grips with their role in the Holocaust. It was only in 1995 that President Jacques Chirac first acknowledged that the French government had collaborated with the Nazis. “It’s a social desire to un-remember things that make your nation look bad,” Rosbottom observed.
“Beyond Me: A Song Cycle in the Key of Survival” plays Saturday, Sept. 20, 9 p.m., at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. For tickets, $19.25, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit unitedsolo.org.