Diane Samuels on her play ‘Kindertransport’


Twenty five years ago, a friend told me about the 50th anniversary reunion that her father was attending. He had grown up in a Jewish family in Vienna and, in 1939, when the Nazi regime was firmly installed in power in Austria, had been given the opportunity to escape on a train to Britain. This was the Kindertransport humanitarian rescue project for 10,000 under sixteen-year-olds, mainly from Jewish families who were in danger. The reunion in 1989 was the first gathering of many of these “Kinder” (hardly children any more as the youngest were in their fifties). I was a young mother myself at the time and found myself hugely moved by the challenge that faced those Jewish parents who chose to send their children, some babes in arms, away to a foreign land to be safe. Many of those children never saw their parents ever again. I felt a deep urge to write about the emotional impact of surviving such a wrenching separation. And so ‘Kindertransport’ the play was born.

Over the last twenty years the play has been performed all over the world and is studied for A and AS Level and GCSE in the UK. I often receive messages from people of all ages about how the play has touched them deeply. For whilst this play is set within a specific context, drawing on actual life experiences of various different Kinder, to tell the fictional story of nine-year-old German-Jewish Eva and her older self in her mid fifties Evelyn who has now become an English Christian, it speaks to all about the feelings around parent/child separation and mother/daughter relationships.

“As time passes fewer and fewer remain who can really tell what it felt like to be exiled as a Jewish child from Nazi Germany. Which is why this excellent play is not only a great piece of theatrical entertainment but also a superb lesson for those of us too young to grasp an element of the devastation that Hitler’s Nazi party caused.

‘Kindertransport’ not only explores those horrors but also the impact of being plucked from your home and your natural parents. The sadness of leaving behind those you love and being thrust into an alien country. And there, not only to not be able to speak the language but to also face prejudices, this time not for your faith but simply for being German.

The play goes further and  explores the traumatic effect of finding a new life and dealing with the emotional strings that tie you to your past. A new adoptive mother, name and lifestyle become a norm that offers some comfort but  also bears scars, emotional damage that  remains and this forms the core of the play.

‘Kindertransport’ will be performed in the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts (5th – 7th December)

Further information:

Diane Samuels, Kindertransport (London, 1995)

For more information about Diane Samuels go to: http://www.dianesamuels.com/ 

 For more information about drama and the Holocaust, see Motti Sandak, Holocaust Theatre Online Collection (HTC): Theatre about Life and Hope: http://www.jewish-theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=346).

Charlene Gould and Jeffrey Myers, ‘Performance of memory: Diane Samuel’s Kindertransport, Tim Blake Nelson’s The Grey Zone, and Holocaust representation’ in Christina Guenther and Beth Greich-Polelle (eds.), Trajectories of Memories: Intergenerational Representations of the Holocaust in History and the Arts (Newcastle upon Tyne,: 353-374)

 Phyllis Lassner, Anglo-Jewish Women Writing the Holocaust: Displaced Witnesses (Basingstoke, 2008)

 Claude Schumacher, Staging the Holocaust: The Shoah, Drama and Performance (Cambridge, 1998)

 Robert Skloot, The Darkness We Carry: The Drama of the Holocaust (Madison, 1988)

 Robert Skloot (ed.), The Theatre of the Holocaust, two volumes (Madison, 1982, 1999)

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