Art about the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel wrote in the New York Times in 1989, “trivializes” memory. The Shoah, he insisted, “defeated culture; later, it defeated art…No one now retell Auschwitz after Auschwitz.” Arnold Mittelman, who is producing a series of readings of Holocaust plays all across the country this month, emphatically disagrees.
Mittelman has reached out to a wide range of performing arts centers, universities, museums, and embassies to sponsor readings in honor of Yom HaShoah, under the auspices of his National Jewish Theater Foundation (NJTF), which has collected more than 600 plays, from the 1930s to the present, in its new Holocaust Theater Catalog (HTC).
Mittelman’s Remembrance Play Readings kicked off on Monday, April 13th in New York with Kathleen Turner and Ellen Burstyn leading a cast of Broadway veterans in Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s “Our Class,” at Temple Emanu-El’s Skirball Center. A sampling of the upcoming plays, many of which are familiar to New York audiences, include Kenneth Lin’s “Intelligence Slave” at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, Jesse Eisenberg’s “The Revisionist” at The Old Globe in San Diego, Joshua Sobol’s “Ghetto” at the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, Fernando Hurtado’s “Butterflies No Longer Live Here,” at the Michal-Ann Russell JCC in North Miami Beach, and Lisa Peschel’s “Performing Captivity and Beyond: Songs and Sketches from Terezin” at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in conjunction with the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.
Last Monday night in New York, in addition to the play reading at the Skirball Center, the Center for Jewish History offered a selection of short works by Cynthia Cooper and Germain Tillion called “Women, Theater and the Holocaust,” followed by a panel discussion on the issues raised by the plays.
In a statement to the press, Mittelman, president of NJTF, noted that these readings are the first nationwide program to focus on theater as a means of Holocaust commemoration. He called the growing body of Holocaust-themed plays an “artistically driven moral compass for future generations.”
Ted Merwin, who teaches religion at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., writes about culture for the paper. His website is tedmerwin.com.