Saturday, February 23, 2013

Santa's Story: A Holocaust Play

Eli, Eli 

Shelo yigamer le'olam: 
Hachol vehayam

Rishrush shel hamayim 
Berak hashamayim 

Tefilat ha'adam

Last Sunday I was invited to go and watch Santa's Story. This is no Christmas play. How about we start at the end this time? 

I was balling my eyes out. Not a particularly elegant description, I'll admit, but I just couldn't contain myself. 
I was completely awestruck.

The story, co-written by opera singer, actress and daughter of Santa, Aviva Pelham recollects the heart-rendering life of her mother, Santa, through a one woman show comprising speech and song. A grim, macabre tale of Santa and her family during the time of persecution in Germany, a life of war in Spain, a refugee ship to England, an illegal life in Paris and an earth shattering separation to Rhodesia and then, South Africa. Per contra, spirits are continuously lifted by the humor existing in ordinary daily life and a wonderful onstage band comprising a violinist, a clarinetist, and an accordion/ piano/ guitar player accompanying and other times simply providing instrumentation to Aviva while depicting Santa's journey. 

Santa Pelham
I really can't possibly tell the entire story accurately, however I'm being a little creative here and coming up with my own way of telling this striking tale of woe and life.

Life was very kind to the Erders, a German Jewish family of four consisting of Santa, her younger brother and their parents.

Aviva places us in Santa's German life perfectly, remarkably singing in German and Hebrew -Eli, Eli anyone? A fair amount of her lines were also in German in this part of the play. She actually does not speak German or any of the languages she sang or spoke in besides English and a bit of French and Hebrew. Wow.

Their prosperity was not to last, for up came the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. After Santa's father was beaten to a pulp for "rejoicing and succeeding from German unhappiness" the Erders were forced to flee and become permanent citizens of Spain, where a tough life of struggle awaited. "Let what has happened to us happen to you!"
The set change of Germany to Spain was beautifully sculpted by a wonderful Pasodoble, as performed by the band.

Civil War broke out in Spain in 1939, and Santa and her family were in the middle of the exact thing from which they fled Germany. 
A ship on its way to Britain was willing to take evacuees, but Santa's father and brother were of right age for the army and were not allowed on the boat. Santa and her mother would travel alone to England.

A few weeks into Santa and her mother's stay in the United Kingdom, they received a letter from her father and brother. They were in Paris - so off they went to meet them there.
A stunning accordion song with Aviva serenading in smooth seductive French came on to lighten the mood.

A burdensome life was install for the Erders in Paris. Not legal to work because of their previous German citizenship, the family fell to working illegally to be able to survive, constantly afraid of arrest. They had also been hearing the stories of Jews being rounded up to be taken to the death camps. How could man commit this atrocity to man?

Hitler invaded France, 1940.
A letter arrived from Rhodesia - Zimbabwe currently - from a man by the name of Jacques Pelham, the son of a Polish Jewish family known by Santa's parents. Encouraged by her mother, Santa sent her own letter of greetings to Jacques, with the possibility of marriage on the horizon. Jacques replied, with an intrigue
 and promises of a gratifying life in Rhodesia with him as her husband. "If you will be my wife, I will promise you three things. A dress, new shoes, and a movie ticket" Santa knew his humor would brighten the darkness of leaving her family.

Heart-wrenchingly leaving her family behind, Santa traveled to Rhodesia to marry Jacques, a complete stranger save for a few letters. Jacques seemed to be a kind man, but Santa was distraught over her being alone without her family. Jacques was to become a great companion. 

First marrying in court, the process was short and abrupt, but the wedding that followed was joyous and jubilant. Agreements made for two years of marriage without a child left Santa to get to know her Jacques. Their first child, grievously died within the first few weeks after the birth, but to the grace of them both, they later had three healthy daughters.

News arrived in 1944 to Santa in Rhodesia. Her parents and brother had died, her father by suffocation in the cattle cars transporting him to Auschwitz and her mother and brother in the gas chambers.
Oh the devastation and evil! Recovery was painful for Santa, but gratefully she had found refuge and a comfortable life with Jacques. 

Santa now lives in South Africa with her family -with 8 grandchildren and 18 grandchildren now in the mix- at the prime age of 95. 

Have I forgotten something? Oh! The ending. Santa was there. 
She was there, sitting in the front row of the theater. The play ended with Aviva bringing her mother, there for the final showing, and having her, Santa, sing the end of the merry song that ended our magnificent journey of her life story. Tears filled my eyes and I gave my silent salutes to the incredible woman.

I was graced with the opportunity to meet Aviva and Santa afterwards. Santa was very humble and pure, and Aviva was just fabulous.  This photo above is of Santa, second from the right, Aviva and her two sisters.

My words of awe to Aviva for her brilliant performance were, 
"Wow, you were just radiant!" She sprightly replied and said,
"You're quite radiant yourself!" (Chuckles) Thanks Aviva.

P.S I also bought the book for a closer look into Santa's story. Expect a review once it's read!