Events Features

Review – Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust

Rachel Schon on a play based on the life of Hungarian Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack OBE

A scene from the play Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust
Credit – Voices of the Holocaust

The play Kindness: A Legacy of the Holocaust by Cate Hollis and Mark Wheeller was performed on 8th June in North West London to commemorate Yom Ha Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day, as marked in the Jewish calendar).

The short play was created by the charity Voices of the Holocaust and is based on the life of Susan Pollack OBE, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who at the age of 13 was sent to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen. 

The play is usually performed in schools to teach children about the Holocaust, and was created by a team mindful that the last remaining survivors are reaching an age where it is difficult for them to deliver testimony in person. This includes Susan herself, who is now 93 years old, and the play has been developed with her blessing and input. 

The story follows Susan (May Lopez) from her childhood growing up in a village in Hungary and we learn how the family faced increasingly severe antisemitism even before the Nazi invasion of Hungary in March 1944. Following this catastrophic event, her father was beaten up and taken to a concentration camp, never to be seen again. Later, the rest of the family was also deported, firstly to a ghetto in the Hungarian town of Vác, and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

We see how Susan initially believed the lie that the deportation was merely ‘resettlement’, carrying a heavy sewing machine with her until this is no longer possible. Susan describes the horrific conditions in the ghetto and in the transport to Auschwitz, explaining how many people died even before reaching the extermination camp. 

The small cast are able to use minimal props, music and dance to skilful effect, conjuring up the darkness and despair of this period. 

Once Susan reaches Auschwitz, she is separated from her mother and brother, and put to work as a slave labourer. We see how she only survives because she is told to lie and say she is 15 rather than 13, this means that she is treated as an adult and escapes being sent to the gas chambers with the other children. 

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From this point the narrative in respect of Susan becomes a little harder to follow. There is a sub-plot concerning the famous story of Mala Zimetbaum and Edek Galinski, a couple who attempted to escape from Auschwitz and who were sadly captured and publicly executed. 

Towards the end of the war, Susan is forced to march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen, where she becomes very unwell and is close to death by the time the camp is liberated by the allied forces. However, she recovers and ultimately rebuilds her life in Canada, where she meets her husband and starts a family. 

We learn that following the war, Susan discovered that her brother had also survived, however he suffered from severe mental health issues due to his time in Auschwitz and died relatively young. 

Susan herself was present at this performance and joined with writer Cate Hollis after the play for a question and answer session. It was clear when listening to her how passionate she is about telling her story, in the hope that this will help create a society where such horrific events can never be repeated. 

Worryingly however, we heard that it is a difficult climate for the play at the moment, with many schools having cancelled performances seemingly as a result of the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza. Concerns have been expressed that staging a performance like this will be viewed as having some kind of contemporary political agenda. 

This is extremely sad, for the message of the play is simply that ‘kindness’ is the only response to human suffering. As Susan says in the play, the abiding question for her is not ‘where was God? in Auschwitz, but rather ‘where was man?’ 

For more in on the play and the charity behind it go to their website here.

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