Voices of hope and resistance

Voices of the Holocaust present Fragile Fire at the Library Theatre, December 4
Voices of the Holocaust present Fragile Fire at the Library Theatre, December 4

Ground-breaking theatre company Voices of the Holocaust will give the second performance of its nationwide tour in Sheffield next week to mark the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

It is a double bill of a new play, Fragile Fire, and a piece of storytelling by Shonaleigh, The Fool of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The 1943 Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during the Second World War stands as one of the outstanding acts of defiance in human history.

A devised piece of physical theatre, Fragile Fire tells the story of 24-year-old Mordechai Anielewicz who led the uprising against the Nazis. This powerful story of resistance and rebellion, hope and faith is set against a backdrop of one of the most disturbing periods of human history.

After the interval Sheffield’s Shonaleigh - international performer, third generation Holocaust survivor and possibly last living Drut’syla (traditionally trained Yiddish storyteller) - will tell one of her grandmother’s “fairy-tales from Auschwitz” - The Fool of the Warsaw Ghetto:

In the last clearing of the Warsaw Ghetto three children find themselves on a transportation to Auschwitz when they encounter the Fool of the Warsaw Ghetto. He offers them a moment of magic in which to escape - if they have the courage to take it. “Not all stories have a happy ending, but they should all begin with outrageous hope,” she says.

Voices of the Holocaust has established an international reputation in only 10 months since it was founded by artistic director Cate Hibbert who after 17 years as head of drama in secondary schools had become frustrated at the way Holocaust theatre was being presented to children, even though she wasn’t Jewish herself.

“It’s a period of history that’s difficult and problematic but I wanted to treat it in a more cutting edge way and on a more human level.

“You have to approach it in a factual way,” she says. “We are not doing melodramatic theatre but have spent months researching it and then present the facts. It has to be historically accurate and work artistically.

“We are working a lot in schools and they say things like we know all about how Hitler was evil. That’s got nothing to do with it. We talk very little about Hitler. It’s about ordinary people - the train drivers or the people who constructed the death camps.

“We also hear people say it’s to make sure it never happens again,” she continues. “It is happening - think of Cambodia or Rwanda or Darfour, or even now what is going on in Russia and Greece.

“I would love my company to be redundant but it’s as vital as ever.

Voices of the Holocaust at the Library Theatre on Wednesday.