Remembering James Still's Powerful Anti-Hate Play 'And Then They Came For Me' (Garrick Theatre, November 2010)
By Fiona Lister
Two years ago I had a life-changing experience at London’s Garrick Theatre at the production of James Still’s ‘And Then They Came For Me’, the story of Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss and her stepsister Anne Frank. The play was shown on 7th November 2010 to raise money and awareness for victims of the Pakistan floods and the disadvantaged children in India.
Directed by Nic Careem, this powerful anti-hate play provoked tears from the whole audience. Scenes of Nazi interrogations and the story of a Jewish family brutally torn apart by merciless SS officers during 1940s Germany made for heartbreaking viewing. It was the most intense afternoon I’d ever spent in a theatre, and even though I’d read Eva’s book ‘Eva’s Story’ twice, nothing could have prepared anyone that day for what we experienced. Eva was sitting with us in the audience. Watching the play with her just made this tragic, shared story even more compelling.
Hearing Eva describe her experiences in Auschwitz concentration camp you couldn’t help but think these events didn’t happen very long ago (just 67 years ago) in our history. Here stood a survivor from a Nazi death camp who was making it her mission to take this powerful production around the world in order not just to tell her compelling story, but to alert different cultures to the dangers of hate and brainwashing. I have never experienced a staged docudrama with so much clout and I have never seen so many audience members reduced to tears throughout an entire production.
The day was set to become more poignant when after the show we met Eva Schloss, now in her eighties. Eva warned that unless governments start to take notice of the power they wield, a similar situation could one day arise, and indeed ‘And Then They Came For Me’ demonstrates that it doesn’t take much for brainwashing to flood through generations until hate becomes the norm or until we turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. Eva said that governments need to listen much more, but instead of taking notice of history, many of them become all powerful or oblivious to what’s going on. We asked Eva how on earth she managed to keep going and survive the horrors of Auschwitz and her response was: “Hope”.
After the play, I walked to Westminster Cathedral with my friend. We were still pondering questions on democracy, power, corruption, persecution, human nature and hope. Both of us were deeply affected by what we’d seen and wanted to pay our respects to the victims of the Holocaust. My friend is a strong Catholic who has made the pilgrimage to Lourdes and attends mass three times a week, while for my part, although I’m not a regular church-goer, I believe in faith and hope. Having Jewish blood in the family, I feel sickened and angered by the way in which Jewish people were treated during the Second World War and indeed today are treated in some countries.
The heady perfume of Frankincense filled the majestic Westminster cloisters and the congregation consisted of people from all faiths, backgrounds and nationalities; some were kneeling on prayer stools, heads bowed and praying intensely, while others were crossing themselves, gazing up into the heavens and sitting with prayer books perched upon their laps.
I lit candles for those I’ve lost – my English grandfather who served during the Second World War and whose medals I’ve kept close, and in particular, I thought about Eva whose hope and strength gave her the will to keep both her and her mother alive during their terrifying ordeal. I thought about those who were unlucky and perished and I thought about those who are perishing under different regimes today. I thought about an old flame who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I thought about how volatile and susceptible to political manipulation and sociological changes desperate societies can become in times of hardship. Mankind seemingly learns nothing from history and liberty is being crushed at every turn. The atrocities in Syria just highlight how sick this world has become.
Listening to Eva Schloss talking about her traumatic experiences on that cold November day was life-changing and that’s what I’ll think about most on Remembrance Day. www.britishlegion.org.