“Remembering a world upside down” Spoken Word: Holocaust Letters

By Evans Ousley

Staff Writer

On March 30, seventeen students participated in a spoken word performance to kick off the Sewanee Remembers: A Week of Holocaust Commemoration event, organized by visiting professor of history David Meola. This event was a nonconventional way of remembering the Holocaust 70 years later, and a performance that pulled at the heartstrings of the audience members. The performers were students of Meola’s history classes, as well as students taking theatre classes. Excerpts from the Holocaust ranged from letters and diaries written from Jews in hiding, diary entries from inside ghettos and camps, and reflections of Holocaust survivors and their children after the Holocaust ended. These were all read dramatically as a way to present the true emotions of those affected. Many of the excerpts followed the theme of separation from family and familiarity.

Tricia Murphy (C’18) read from the Diary of Norbert Troller in Terezin, a ghetto. The short but moving piece ended with Troller’s “eternally torturing question: how long…when will the transports separate us?” Through this project, Professor Meola hoped to teach his students how traumatic the Holocaust truly was for the victims, and take that knowledge even further by educating the Sewanee community about the raw emotions felt by Holocaust survivors. The end of Helena Mandelbaum’s letter that Lily Davenport (C’16) read, portrayed this raw emotion that many Jews felt when they were forced to separate from their family, “I conclude because my heart bursts from pain.” All of the performances were heartfelt and each reader dove into the role, courageously taking on the emotions of the Holocaust victims whose words they were reading.

This performance, in conjunction with the rest of the week’s events, was a call to never forget the effects of the Holocaust on victims and their children, and to always remember how the events of the Holocaust began so that we may prevent a similar event from happening again. “I don’t want to remember the world upside down…but I have to remember and let you never forget” (excerpt from “I Cannot Forget” written by Alexander Kimel and read by Mary Gray Stolz (C’17).