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'Gerda's Story' examines Holocaust struggles

Thursday, September 23, 2010

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"Gerda's Story" is the season opener for DePauw Theatre. The production, based on the memoirs Holocaust survivor Gerda Nothmann Luner, opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 in Moore Theatre of the Judson and Joyce Green Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $3 for students and $6 for adults and are available at the theatre's box office or by phone at 658-4827.
GREENCASTLE -- There can never be too many stories told about the horrors of the Holocaust. Each voice of struggle, courage, pain and hope reinforces the conviction that there is no place for genocide in a civilized world.

"Gerda's Story: Memoir of a Holocaust Survivor," the 2010-'11 season opener for DePauw Theatre, is the story of a young girl who experienced profound uncertainty and astonishing luck between the years of 1933 and 1946. Adapted for the stage by associate professor Tim Good and junior J.C. Pankratz, the play is based on the memoir of Gerda Nothmann Luner.

The production opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 in Moore Theatre of the Judson and Joyce Green Center for the Performing Arts. Performances will continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3.

Growing up in the midst Hitler's rise to power, Gerda Nothmann struggles to make sense of the hatred waged against her people amongst a seemingly never-ending progression of loss. Her life in Berlin is torn apart when Gerda and her sister Vera are sent into the assumed safety of foster care in Holland. Soon Gerda is separated from her sister when Gerda must relocate to a foster family in another town.

The Nazi invasion of Holland divides Gerda from this beloved foster family, and she is sent to a work camp. The safety of the work camp placement dissolves into deportment to the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Only her skill at manufacturing radio tubes saves Gerda from the gas chambers.

Director Tim Good, associate professor of communication and theatre, met Gerda's husband, Charles Luner, while teaching at Elmhurst College. During that time, Elmhurst produced "Letters to Gerda" in conjunction with the local synagogue's annual Holocaust conference.

This production was based on Gerda's correspondence with her parents after she had fled to Holland. In 2002, Elmhurst published Gerda Nothmann Luner's memoir, "Gerda's Story: Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor," after which Good obtained permission from Charles Luner to adapt the memoir for the stage.

The intention of Good's labor is to highlight the normalcy of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust.

"The first act [of Gerda's Story] aims to establish what a normal life the Nothmanns led," Good said. "Gerda is not a hero, she just happened to come out on the other end."

Although "Gerda's Story" tackles the same difficult material as "The Diary of Anne Frank" and Arthur Miller's "Playing for Time," Good said this particular story examines the peculiarities of fate.

In the end, he notes, "Gerda adopted this attitude of, 'I've been given this gift. Luck got me out, so I'm going to live the rest of my life to earn this kind of luck. I'm going to live my life for my family, as a Jew, to try to earn this luck.'"

Several associated events are accompanying the production. "Gerda's Letters" will be presented at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29 in the ballroom of the Memorial Student Union. This one-woman performance by JoAn Segal dramatizes letters exchanged between young Gerda, her sister Vera and their parents after the girls had been sent into foster care in Holland. A discussion with Charles Luner and visiting Holocaust scholars will follow the Friday evening performance in Moore Theatre. Both events are free and open to the public.

Tickets for Gerda's Story are $3 for students and $6 for adults and are available for purchase at the DePauw University Green Center for the Performing Arts Center Box Office. Box Office hours are 12:30-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and one hour prior to show time. Information and reservations are available by calling 658-4827 or emailing greencenter@depauw.edu.

Also available for purchase are DePauw Theatre patron passes. Purchasers are entitled to five tickets for the price of four. The passes are available at both student and adult price levels. To purchase or obtain additional information, contact the Green Center box office at the contacts listed above.



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