In the early days of Hitler’s reign, prior to the outbreak of international hostilities with the rest of Western Europe, an organized rescue effort developed in the United Kingdom to save Jewish children from countries threatened by the Nazis. This effort, known as the Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”) saved upwards of 10,000 children from facing the Holocaust.
British playwright Diane Samuels’ 1993 play Kindertransport examines one such child, named Eva, as she grows up in England with a British foster mother, trying to assimilate to the culture while still haunted by all she has left behind. A new production of the play, co-produced by Austin Jewish Repertory Theatre (AJRT) and Trinity Street Players (TSP), taps into debates over immigration and refugeeism in an era where those issues are as timely as ever.
According to TSP artistic director Ann Zárate, the timing was intentional. “I wanted a script that not only allowed TSP to partner with AJRT, but that also spoke to the contemporary climate of America,” she explains. “With the separation of church and state blurred by unchecked nationalism, a question arises: Will America allow history to repeat itself in its latent and blatant racism and sexism?” She adds, “We are closing our borders to needy families and children, victims of horrible gang and political crimes in their home countries.”
To direct this weighty, loaded text, the natural choice was James Lindsay, who has not only performed in and directed several local productions, but also holds a degree in English from UT Dallas with an emphasis on Holocaust studies. “I was reminded of the survivor stories I read not merely about the genocide of WWII but also about the response of its survivors,” says Lindsay. “Each survivor has a unique response, but one that threads through so many is the residual guilt associated with survival. So, I wrapped my initial thoughts around the universality of this emotion and how the Holocaust becomes a backdrop for a greater story. Survivors of PTSD, among others, I expect, can relate to this rendering of the text.”
Thus, Kindetransport asks questions not just about immigration amidst international chaos, but also about survivor’s guilt more generally. One of those questions, according to Zárate, is an attempt to bring the large scale of these issues down to a personal level: “What does war and trauma do not only to people groups and international psyche, but what does is do to individuals, to their sense of place and identity?”
As she sums up, “All of these and more are the issues Kindertransport raises in the story of a child still crying inside a grown women attempting to mother her own teen while juggling guilt about the identity she chose and the one she threw away.”
Kindertransport runs through April 28 at the Trinity Street Players’ Black Box Theatre. Tickets are free, but require a reservation.