Purim takes on a bitter sweet note when you realise part of the play you are enjoying was performed in the Terezin/Theresienstadt during the Shoah.
Not only were we taken back there by Dr Lisa Peschel, who wrote Performing Captivity, Performing Escape: Cabarets and Plays from the Terezin ghetto, but members from the Mosaic community took on the roles during our Purim celebrations at Bessborough Road last month.
It was a poignant reminder that humour can reign and uplift fellow Jews in the depths of despair.
Lisa, a non-Jewish teacher of theatre in York, said she first became interested in the Terezin ghetto when she went to the Jewish quarter in the Czech Republic and saw an exhibition of the children’s drawings. Those incredible works of art ‘stayed in the back of my mind for five years’ and eventually prompted me to write a play about the cultural life of the ghetto. “Most survivors, who were teenagers or young people at the time, remembered the cultural life as a time of incredible richness as well as fear and uncertainty, but also the solidarity of putting on a play”.
I was on the edge of my seat, reliving their experiences; the capacity for pleasure in such a terrible situation. “They said ‘the Nazis can control what happens to our bodies, but not what happens to our minds.”
While the Nazis controlled most of their lives, they ignored their theatrical outpourings because they simply didn’t care. “They didn’t think they would get out alive.”
Terezin was a transit camp, from where most Jews were sent to Auschwitz, and was famously visited by the Red Cross to dispel the rumours of death camps. The Nazis spent six months making the ghetto respectable for their visit and even produced a propaganda film to back up their lies.
On a lighter note services were held by all three synagogues with the traditional readings of the Megillat Esther and an updated version as a Purim spiel was performed by Mosaic Reform amid much mirth and a certain amount of cross-dressing.
A delicious array of food was presented by many helpers from the community team.