“Silent Witness” recounts the lives of four hidden Jewish children during WWII
Writer/performer Stephanie Satie gives voice to four extraordinary women in her award-winning solo play “Silent Witnesses” now onstage as a returning guest production at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A. on Sundays at 2 p.m. through Feb. 1.
The play begins when we meet Dana (playwright Stephanie Satie, who plays all four characters), a former Hidden Child herself who has opened her own psychologist office in Los Angeles in 1972 which attracts other “hidden children” finally willing to share their Holocaust stories. The play is Ms. Satie’s fourth solo show and obviously a very personal one as Dana recounts in great detail how she and her mother managed to survive together in whatever way they could, with her mother always acting like an aristocrat even when their circumstances were quite the opposite.
Basing her play on interviews and conversations with child survivors of the Holocaust, “Silent Witness” paints an uplifting portrait of human resilience shaped through the eyes of children, infused with the wisdom of the adults they’ve become. The play won the Best Documentary Script from the United Solo Festival in New York, and recipient of the Women in Arts and Media Coalition Collaboration .Award.
Each of the very different women are portrayed by Ms. Satie, shifting her posture and accent as well as the way each wears the same set of clothes, perhaps adding a hat or scarf. Each recounts their horrendous survival, be it living alone in a forest or with their mother in a ramshackle barn, acknowledging the fact that they were kids “on the outside” who survived because they were pretty or had a helping hand from a parent or other generous adult who kept them in hiding until the war was over.
These women retain their memories as the children they were at the time, jumping back into the present time as group participants who, thinking that no one was interested in hearing their story of survival, gather for weekly meetings and recount their experiences, both good and bad. What we learn is that when your survival is on the line there is no way to judge what behavior people undertake to save themselves since there is no way any of us can know what we would do to save ourselves in the moment until it happens. And the ghosts who live within these women will chill your soul.
Paula, a very young child who was 5 years old in the ghetto, recounts her childhood hiding from the Nazis in her family’s chicken coop (with as many of 40 other people) to running away to survive in the woods on her own to being shipped to Auschwitz where she saw her father and brothers for the last time on the train taking them there. If only her family had taken the chance to escape to Romania, perhaps they could have all survived. But her mother hesitated to leave her Persian rugs and crystal behind for someone else. Of course, that is exactly what happened once the family was sent away.
Amelia was born in Poland and shipped off to Belgium where she was kept in hiding. A sickly child with asthma, she never thought anyone would be willing to take her in, let alone help her survive. Always cold even in warm weather, she always wraps her sweater tightly around her and wears a hat to keep her head warm.
Hana Frank, who makes a point of acknowledging she is no relation to the other famous Frank, although she was also from Holland. Hana shares she was taken in the middle of the night on a bicycle to a home where she was hidden by a Christian family. When she was not allowed to go outside with them for fear of being recognized, she made sure her dog companion sits looking out the window since she cannot.
The play culminates with Dana convincing Paula to return to Germany for the 6oth Anniversary of the Holocaust to be held at Auschwitz. With Paula being liberated from the camp on that day, she has been invited to speak at the ceremony at which Dana makes sure she tells them the truth about what she survived. In return, Paula will take Dana to her former hometown in Poland to be reunited with her just-discovered surviving family. I wish we had gotten to see that scene which would have been a very heart-warming way to end this ultimately uplifting play.
Written and performed by Stephanie Satie, directed and dramaturged by Anita Khanzadian, “Silent Witness” is their third collaboration, following the critically acclaimed REFUGEES and COMING TO AMERICA – TRANSFORMATIONS.
See it on 4 Sundays at 2 p.m.: Jan. 11, 18, 25; Feb. 1 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.
Purchase tickets, ranging from $20-$30 by calling (310) 477-2055 ext. 2 or www.refugeestheplay.com.