Surviving Auschwitz, Times Two

Surviving Auschwitz, Times Two

Czech actress and athlete are focus of ‘The Good and the True.’

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

They may be equally hair-raising and heartrending, but no two stories of survival in Auschwitz are exactly the same.

In a new Off-Broadway play, “The Good and the True,” the experiences of two unrelated, real-life survivors, Czech actress Hana Marie Pravda and Czech athlete Milos Dobry, are interwoven into a single evening of theater. Pravda is played by her own granddaughter, the British actress Isobel Pravda, while Dobry is played by the South African actor Saul Reichlin.

Directed by Daniel Hrbek, “The Good and the True,” which runs just 70 minutes, starts with both Pravda and Dobry in Terezin, the “model” ghetto; it then follows them as they are sent to Auschwitz. Isobel Pravda, who played the part in previous productions in Prague, Brussels, Leeds and London, was prevented by visa complications from appearing in the play when it first opened last month in New York; Hannah D. Scott was enlisted at the last minute to step into the role. Now back in the play, Pravda told The Jewish Week that her grandmother survived largely because of her love for her non-Jewish husband, Sasha, whom she “made Jewish” through marriage and who did not survive Auschwitz.

“She transferred that love to me,” Pravda said, “and became my mentor and friend.” Hana’s monologues in the play are taken verbatim from the diary that she kept in 1945, while she was on a death march to Bergen-Belsen. After the war, Hana, who had been a leading film actress in Prague, found success as a stage actress in Paris, Melbourne and London. She died in 2008 at the age of 90.

Reichlin, who is best known for his one-man touring production, “Sholom Aleichem — Now You’re Talking!” learned about his character by talking to Dobry’s grandson, Petr, and by reading interviews with Milos that were conducted after the war. Dobry’s mantra, Reichlin said, was “act fast — act when there’s no time to think.” By taking immediate advantage of every opportunity that arose, he was able to “see his way through.” Dobry, who became a rugby player after the war, died in 2012 at the age of 89.

Doing a play about the Holocaust is a humbling experience, Reichlin said. “You feel as if you’re touching on a subject on which a lot of people are likely to be experts themselves.” The most interesting audience members, he noted, are the children of survivors. “The experience of the Holocaust is like a hook that they can’t take out.”

read more: