Last Friday a storage unit near the Phillips Academy physical plant transformed into the Theresienstadt concentration camp and opened its doors to give students a look inside. Written by Anna Smulowitz, the play “Terezin: Children of the Holocaust” depicted two dramatic days in the lives of six children sharing “Cell Block 22” in a concentration camp.
Following a brief presentation in Kemper, students proceeded to this unique venue, with a Nazi flag ushering them back to the time of the Holocaust. Once everyone took their seats in the makeshift theatre, Smulowitz introduced her production, announcing its fortieth year in production.
The lights dimmed, obscuring the simple set which consisted of a set of bunk beds, two other beds on either side, and a trunk center stage. A video montage with traditional Hebrew music playing in the background began the play with haunting images of Germany and the carnage of concentration camps during World War II.
As the lights came up, the play’s six member cast immediately captured the attention of the audience. Through each character’s unique background story and personality, “Terezin: Children of the Holocaust” gave faces to the millions of people who lost their lives during the war. Most shocking was the character Corrinna, played by Christina Beck of Phillips Exeter Academy, who received extra rations from the guards after snitching on her cellmates’ reprehensible behavior.
Another compelling character, Aaron, played by Eric Sirakian ’10, arrived at the concentration camp during the course of the play. From his clean clothes to his idealistic disposition, everything about him highlighted the squalor and depression his other cell mates experienced.
Further differences developed between the mindsets of the young children and the teenagers—the young children were ever optimistic of their eventual release from the camp, while the teenage characters had a greater understanding of the hopelessness of their situation.
The two days in the lives of these characters illustrated their struggles, including the tortuous punishments they received. Surprisingly, the story also revealed romance and even hope. In a brief discussion after the play, Smulowitz explained that each of the six characters represented one million of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Smulowitz’s parents were Holocaust survivors, and the character of Corinna was based on her mother.
According to Smulowitz, the play has been performed in Auschwitz, Berlin and in Theresienstadt itself. She also described the universality of the play, saying that “no child is born a racist” and calling on this generation to prevent hatred and violence in the modern world.
Beck, who played Corinna, held back tears as she told the audience how much the play meant to her and how important she thought its message was to today’s society. Beck believes that everyone needs to be reminded of the Holocaust in order to prevent it from happening again.
Despite these messages, genocide and human rights violations are still prevalent today, especially in Darfur, Cambodia and Rwanda. With help from an Abbot grant, STAND, a student-run anti-genocide organization at Phillips Academy, brought this play to remind students to take action in the face of genocide. The proceeds of the show went to the “Enough” project, which works to fight crimes against humanity around the world.
Hoonie Moon ’10, co-head of STAND, thought the play was a success, because it “[inspired] people to think about the Holocaust and genocide.”
Hannah Finnie ’11 said that the play focused on a side of the Holocaust that people often overlook. She added that the staging “was better [in the physical plant] than it would have been in Kemper or Steinbach, because it was more personal, as you were right next to the actors and props.”
By giving faces and personal stories to genocide victims, “Terezin: Children of the Holocaust” carried a powerful message reminding students never to give up in the fight against genocide.