Through February 25
KINDERTRANSPORT Maxine & Robert Seller Theatre/Jewish Repertory Theatre
By Augustine Warner
Across the world, there are thousands of people who are alive because thousands of Jewish parents in the waning days before World War II allowed their children to flee Nazi Germany.
It was what’s known as the “kindertransport,” the children’s transport.
Many never saw their parents or their families again because they disappeared into the Nazi death machine.
Some went to places like Holland, only to see the Nazis show up and take them into the Final Solution.
Around 10,000 made it to England.
Washington fought bringing Jewish refugees here and one shipload was actually sent back.
Diane Samuels’ “Kindertransport” tries to tell the story through one passenger, nine-year-old Eva Schlesinger (Renee Landrigan) who winds up in London, as her mother Helga (Chamagne Chi) sends her to safety.
In her journey, she deals with a brutal Nazi border guard and an English officer who isn’t much better.
She’s taken in by Lil (Ellen Horst).
In her new home, she has trouble making the transition from a German schoolgirl to a British schoolgirl, dealing with problems learning English and working to get her parents to safety.
Now, it’s generations later and Faith (Robyn Baun), Evelyn’s daughter, is moving to take a job and wants to clear out her stuff in the house’s attic.
In collecting what she wants to take away, Faith stumbles across family history she never knew and her relatives aren’t anxious to reveal.
On David Dwyer’s wonderful set of that same space, the story alternates between refugee Eva and Mom Evelyn (Wendy Hall), with Lil watching and occasionally intervening.
Mom isn’t handling Faith’s departure very well and really gets upset as past events surface in the papers left gathering dust in the attic.
Gradually, we learn Mom Evelyn was once refugee Eva.
She has changed first and last names, been baptized as a Christian, learned perfect English and turned into a matronly mother.
She doesn’t want to be found if the Nazis come across the channel.
Evelyn has suppressed her history and doesn’t want to dredge it up, even as Faith finds a German language book of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, along with letters in German and paperwork.
It’s easy to say Mom would talk about her family history, but families often don’t, for all sorts of reasons.
She doesn’t even tell anyone that her mother survived the Holocaust and wanted her daughter back.
In a post-war meeting, death camp survivor Helga wants the daughter back she put on that German train so long ago, back to being a part of her family, now, in New York.
The English Protestant mother and matron wouldn’t give up her life, returning to the Jewish kid she was so long ago in Germany.
“Kindertransport” is a fascinating look at the decisions we make in life, for better or for worse, for safety, for life.
What would you do at the age of nine?
It’s really worth seeing, offering that Dwyer set and strong performances across the board, particularly Landrigan.
The show is also a look at being an adapting refugee, in a time when there are millions of refugees, including some in the vicinity of the theater.
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