Miller South fifth-grader Noa Beree has a button that says "Never Again Is Now."
It's an important message related to what she's learned from both rehearsing "Stories of the Kindertransport" at Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts and meeting a Holocaust survivor in the "Face-to-Face" Holocaust education program by Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood.
Drama director Alex Funk's cast visited the Beachwood synagogue and spoke with a Holocaust survivor there who 80 years ago was on the Kindertransport — the British government's program in which 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were given safe train passage to the United Kingdom before the outbreak of World War II. The children, who were separated from their parents and assimilated into another culture, were spared the horrors of the Nazi death camps.
Thirty-five cast and crew members at the Akron middle school will present "Stories of the Kindertransport" at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, deadly Nazi attacks against Jews in Germany that also destroyed their homes, schools and synagogues on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938.
Beree, 10, of Akron, said the play has led her to learn more about her great-grandfather, a Russian-born Jew driven by the Holocaust to Israel with his Romanian-born wife.
"The play really means a lot to me because it's kind of helping me learn about my heritage," she said.
In the Miller South drama, Beree plays fictional kinder Ava, a German girl whose parents send her away to safety in England. The Miller South production weaves Diane Samuels' 1993 "Kindertransport" play with historic accounts of 11 children who were actually on the Kindertransport, from Mark Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer's 2000 documentary "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport."
The students in the cast are playing children their own age, most of whom never saw their parents again. The actors have worked to understand the Jewish children's separation from their families and wondered how they themselves would have handled such trauma.
" 'Kindertransport' isn't an easy show for middle schoolers to undertake,'' Funk said. "But the story is an important reminder that we must learn from history to keep from repeating it."
At Congregation Shaarey Tikvah, the cast talked to George Kronenberg, 90, a Holocaust survivor from Germany who was on the Kindertransport with his twin sister at age 10. Their parents told the twins they were going on holiday to England and that they would join them there later. Kronenberg and his sister were split up when they arrived in England and didn't see each other again for six years. Their parents died in concentration camps.
"I can't imagine what that was like — to never see your parents again,'' said seventh-grader Abigail Browning of Chippewa, who plays Ava as a teen in the play.
Kronenberg is expected to attend the play at Miller South this weekend.
At rehearsal Monday, actress Browning talked about the shooting deaths of 11 people at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.
"More people should hear about this play so that they realize that everyone's just like a person, it doesn't matter what you believe in. We're all people,'' the 12-year-old said.
Actor Donovan Shaeffer, an eighth-grader, sees performing in this play as a big responsibility. He plays the Ratcatcher, an antagonist based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin whom Ava has conjured to represent all of Nazi Germany.
"It's definitely difficult. I've never played a bad guy in a play or an antagonist in a show,'' said Shaeffer, 13. "I'm going to be connecting with people in the audience who were on the Kindertransport."
Malinda Riffle, who plays the grown Ava character who has changed her name to Evelyn, said her great-grandfather, a Holocaust survivor from Germany, passed away before she was able to learn about his experience.
"I think it's very important to know that these things happened and not just push them aside and pretend like it [the Holocaust] didn't happen, because it could happen again,'' she said.
Director Funk performed in the play in high school and directed it as an independent project as a theater student at the University of Akron in 2012. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Samuels' modern classic, which Funk has adapted and cast entirely with children.
Miller South will hold a dress-down day Thursday to raise money to donate to Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and also take collections at the weekend performances. Show tickets cost $10 general admission or $5 for students and senior citizens. Call 330-822-3762 or see https://kinderbpt.me.
'Music Without Barriers'
Erica Snowden-Rodriguez, principal cellist of the Akron Symphony Orchestra, will present the talk "Music Without Barriers" at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St., Akron. Snowden-Rodriguez, self-described as a queer Latinx-American womxn,asked that those spellings be used.
The cellist will speak about involvement in the Sphinx Organization, a national organization dedicated to transforming lives through diversity in the arts. The discussion will explore how being a queer Latinx-American womxn has shaped Snowden-Rodriguez's vision of the future of classical music to include and empower communities on the margins of society.
Cost for the luncheon is $30. Reservations are still being accepted. Call 330-535-8131 or see www.akronsymphony.org.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.