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Thoughts on Kindertransport by playwright Diane Samuels

Approved by ATG's PR & Communications Officer, David Bradbury

The first major UK tour of Diane Samuels’ play Kindertransport is coming to Richmond Theatre from Monday 3 February. It’s an uplifting play about Mother/Daughter relationships but set against the background of the historical event known as the Kindertransport. In this short series of articles we look at the historical context of the play, and hear from the playwright and director about their thoughts on the production.

The Playwright
Diane Samuels

Memory is unpredictable. Sometimes it forms clear as crystal. At other times it splinters into shards that refuse to fit together. Some pieces may connect whilst others remain elusive. Often, memories dissolve into a mist or vanish altogether into a sea of darkness, but this doesn’t mean that they are no longer there. Kindertransport is a play in which invisible memory is made not only visible but material and physical, a living, breathing thing: a bedtime moment, a box of papers, a girl’s hand clutching a crinkled photograph. If you think that you know what memory means then the play asks you to think again, to feel, see, hear, touch where memory hides and reveals itself, to realise that the value of what you do and do not remember might not lie in the past but in how it connects you to what is fully alive, or solidly frozen, within you right now, as present as ever.

I can understand It was in 1989, during the 50th anniversary year of the Kindertransport that I first learned about the children who were brought to safety, and how many of them never saw their parents again. I wondered why I had not come across this before. I grew up in a tight-knit Jewish community in Liverpool in the 1960s and 70s, and attended Jewish schools from kindergarten at the age of three to secondary school, including sixth form. I was taught Jewish history and the Holocaust was given due attention. Yet there was no word about the Kindertransport, and this in schools where young people of the same age would readily have identified with the experience of these evacuees. The reasons for this are significant and connect with the inner life of the Kinder themselves. Many simply chose not to discuss or raise the matter of where they had come from and how. In their adult lives they had focused on making a living, raising families and “putting the past” behind them.

When 1989 came around, the youngest Kinder, who had travelled across Europe and the North Sea as babies thrust into the arms of older children, were themselves around fifty plus, whilst the teenage refugees were in their sixties. Late middle age is a time when life catches up with a person. An organization called Kindertransport Reunion was set up by Bertha Leverton and others who now actively sought to mark the event by bringing as many Kinder together as possible. A celebratory gathering was planned, the first of its kind. I met Bertha through a friend, herself a refugee, of my then husband, himself the son of German Jewish refugees. She talked to me about arriving and living in England, then later, after the war, how her mother had been one of the few who survived and come to find her. Bertha also helped me to meet other Kinder and hear their stories too. I watched a documentary on television in which various Kinder described their early experience of escape, subsequent survival, gratitude, guilt, loss and making a new life in another land.

Twenty five years on, 2013/14 sees the 75th anniversary when Kinder gather again to mark their unique experience and connect with each other. By the time the hundredth anniversary arrives it is unlikely that very many, if any, will be here to attend. I feel privileged to have been able to engage with this communal act of remembering, reflection and attesting to the world whilst many have still been here to share it.

Kindertransport, the event, is entirely distinct from Kindertransport the play. In the drama I do not attempt to speak for any of those who actually travelled on the trains as children. Whilst I did draw on key moments and detail from the spoken and written testimonies of Kinder, and whilst most of the experiences of Eva/Evelyn did happen to someone somewhere, the play is primarily a work of creative imagination, written from the heart. My play does focus on a particular happening at a time of massive upheaval in the world, yet it also looks beyond the specifics of this historical event and taps into a universal human experience: that of a child’s separation from its mother. Most of all, my focus when writing the play was to probe the inner life where memory is shaped by trauma, history meets story, in order to gain psychological and emotional insight into how a damaged psyche can survive, possibly recover, and whether there might ever be an opportunity to thrive. This journey within is what Kindertransport also offers each member of the audience and reader if they allow themselves to go where it ventures no matter where or when they live.

Kindertransport is at Richmond Theatre from Mon 3 - Sat 8 Feb.

Article by Hall & Childs Ltd