Holocaust Survivor to Speak After Oct. 10 Production
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Sept. 10, 2004 — The Department of Theatre and Dance at Southeast Missouri State University will open the 2004-2005 season Oct. 1 with “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Set in Amsterdam during the early Nazi occupation in World War II, “The Diary of Anne Frank” recalls the familiar and endearing story of a young girl forced to find the beauty in life, amidst horrifying circumstances. Despite the seemingly hopeless fate awaiting them, the two families sequestered in an attic apartment are the lucky ones, avoiding the inevitable as long as possible and living as normally as any in their situation could ever hope.
A true coming of age story, “The Diary of Anne Frank” reminds all of us there is beauty, hope, and even comedy in the most mundane of lives, the most dreary and desperate circumstances.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” was adapted for the stage by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. Dennis Seyer will direct the production, which runs Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1-2 at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 10 a.m.; Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 7-9 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m.
Student and senior discounts are available for advanced sales only. Regular tickets are available for $10 and may be reserved by calling the Performing Arts Box Office at (573) 651-2265, or by visiting the box office, located in the lobby of the Rose Theatre.
In connection with the theatre production, Felicia Graber of St. Louis, a survivor of the Holocaust, will present a guest lecture at 4:30 p.m. in Rose Theatre, at the conclusion of the theatre performance Oct. 10. Her presentation is titled “War Time Experience as a Child Holocaust Survivor in Poland.” The lecture is free and open to the public
Graber was born in March 1940 in Tarnow, Poland, after the Germans had invaded Poland. Although her parents had moved somewhat away from the very strict Orthodox ways of her grandparents, Graber says, they were still Orthodox, observing the laws of “Kashrut” (dietary laws) and the Sabbath (traditionally a day of rest, spiritual renewal and prayer). Her grandfather and father were both watchmakers and owned a successful watch and jewelry store.
In summer 1942, her paternal grandparents and her maternal grandfather were deported – probably to Belzec death camp (her maternal grandmother died in 1934), she said. In the fall of 1942, she and her parents were ordered to move into the ghetto established in the city by the Germans. After being almost miraculously taken out of a transport to the Belzec or Auschwitz death camps with her parents, her father acquired a set of false Christian papers for her mother and a baptismal certificate for her, Graber said. She and her mother were smuggled out of the ghetto and ended up in Warsaw living as Christians.
Graber was being raised as a fervent Catholic, going faithfully to Mass every Sunday and reciting the Lord’s Prayer every evening. Her father joined them in Warsaw in 1943 after escaping from the ghetto as it was being liquidated, she said. He too had a set of Christian papers but with a different name than she and her mother. As a result, he could not officially live with them and was introduced to Graber, who did not remember him, as her father’s friend.
In August 1944, when the Polish Warsaw Uprising by the Polish underground against the Germans was defeated, she and her parents were expelled from their apartment and, together with thousands of other Poles, driven out of the city to a transit camp in Pruszkov. Graber said many Poles were transported from there to Germany as slave laborers, but she and her parents were released and found shelter in a farm house in Chiliczky near Grodzisk Maz, about one hour from Warsaw. They remained with the farmer, his wife, and two daughters until Poland was liberated by the Russians in the spring of 1945. At no time did the farmer, his family or anyone in the village suspect the three were Jews, she said.
After liberation, her father reestablished himself as a watchmaker and jeweler in Zopot, a resort town in the north of Poland near Gdansk (the former Danzig). Her brother was born there in 1946. However, as the Communist grip on Poland tightened, her father’s situation as a “capitalist” became precarious, and, in 1947, he managed to get a visa to leave Poland for Belgium, where he and his family found political asylum.
It was in Brussels, in 1947, at the age of seven, that Graber learned the truth about her identity as a Jew and about the true identity of her “uncle.” Both revelations came as a shock to her, and it took some time before she was able to accept those facts, she said.
In 1951, she and her family moved to Germany for financial reasons. Growing up as a Jew in post-war Germany was a lonely existence for a girl who, although not observant, had become, by that time, thoroughly Jewish and was aware of Germany’s and the Germans’ role in her people’s and family’s recent past, she said.
In 1959, she met and married an American Jewish chaplain serving with the U.S. Occupying Forces in Germany, and her return to her roots came full circle when she joined her new husband’s Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.
Her daughter was born in 1961 and her son in 1963, both in an Army hospital in Germany. She came to the United States in 1963 when her husband’s tour of duty overseas was finished.
Currently, she is a retired school teacher, living in St Louis with her husband. She has eight grandchildren who live in Cleveland and Baltimore.