‘Kindertransport’ play in Denver honors Holocaust refugees

October 29, 2014
Photo: 'Kindertransport' at the 2014 JAAMM Festival
Margaret Amateis Casart (left) as Lil and Zoe Miller as Eva Schlesinger in "Kindertransport," which runs at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center in Denver through Dec. 7.

The guard finds a harmonica among Eva's few belongings.

“You can’t take anything of value out of the country!” he hollers, before forcing Eva to play a tune in order to prove she does not keep the instrument with the sole intention of selling it.

Peter Ney, a Kindertransport refugee from Nuremberg, Germany who now lives in Colorado, attended a rehearsal for a new production of the play created by Denver’s Theatre Or and the Mizel Arts and Culture Center (MACC) to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the last Kindertransport train to arrive in England.

Ney recalled an incident from his own life very similar to this scene. Only his story involved a silver fountain pen his father gave him as a gift.

“His father said to hide it because the Nazis would take it, so he hid it in his underwear. And he still has that pen today,” director Richard H. Pegg says. “When Peter talked about his experiences, it was like reading from the play because the playwright has done some great research.”

The play runs at the Jewish Cultural Center through Dec. 7 and three area Kindertransport refugees will speak following the performance on Nov. 9.

That date also marks the anniversary of the Kristallnacht -- or “Night of Broken Glass” -- when Nazi mobs in Austria and Germany killed 91 Jewish people, arrested 30,000 and destroyed thousands of buildings, including stores and synagogues.

“You cannot believe how inspirational these people are, what they’ve been through, the hardships they’ve endured and how they’ve met these challenges and moved on in their lives,” Theatre Or producing artistic director Diane Gilboa says.

The production also honors Kindertransport refugee and Denver theater impresario Henry Lowenstein. The lauded stage director, designer and producer passed away at age 89 on Oct. 7.

“Part of Henry’s legacy is also that because of this journey we found these other Kindertransport child survivors and their stories will now be told,” Gilboa says. “And it is my hope that the story of the Kindertransport and its message will not be forgotten in Denver.”

Some performances coincide with the Neustadt Jewish Arts, Authors, Movies & Music (JAAMM) Festival, which runs at the MACC through Nov. 9. The seventh-annual festival features 37 events -- from orchestral performances to an author series -- over 19 days.

“We really love to think that we are centered in Jewish culture, we are a celebration of Jewish culture,” MACC executive artistic director Steve Wilson says. “But you don’t need to be Jewish to love great music, great literature and great theater.”