Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Groups invited to tell stories of Kristallnacht witnesses


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Furnishings of the Zeven Synagogue in Germany. The objects were removed to the town square where they were burned, drawing cheers from people who came to watch the destruction.

The Holocaust Center in Maitland often uses personal stories and eye-witness accounts as an effective way to share the history of the Shoah. Those individual voices, telling their own experiences, can make that tragic time easier to grasp. Art exhibits, films and speakers at the center’s community commemorations often use the innocent faces and poignant testimony of victims, survivors, rescuers and liberators to explain the real cost of intolerance.

In preparing for the observance of Kristallnacht last year, the center decided to stage a unique drama that focused primarily on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938. It was then, on the “night of broken glass”, that Hitler’s ultimate goals became clear. The program was an original theater piece called Witness, which was based on the diaries, letters and accounts of people who could provide first-hand stories. The performance was well-received by the community and left a lasting impression on many in the audience.

In planning for this year’s Kristallnacht events to mark the 75th anniversary of that night, the center is reviving Witness in a new way. It is sharing the script and the PowerPoint that helps tell the story, making it available to groups who wish to be part of the anniversary observance. The goal is to get 75 groups to present the drama during the last half of the year.

Pastor Jim Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida and a member of the community’s Kristallnacht Advisory Board, is coordinating the outreach to interested groups. He says they have already recruited more than a dozen venues to do presentations, and more potential participants have been identified.

“It’s an ideal teaching tool for all kinds of groups,” Coffin says. “Hosting a performance of Witness is a great opportunity to have youth participate in a program that’s uncomplicated yet interesting, challenging and highly satisfying.... a chance to remind both youth and adults about an important part of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Jack Lowe, one of the authors of the drama, explains that the format is a Reader’s Theater, so there are no costumes, no memorizing lines, and no staging. He says it is particularly suited to young actors and young audiences. “Many of the characters who share their story in the play are young people,” he says. “War and political conflicts are devastating for everyone involved. We wanted to include the most innocent victims, the children we put in harm’s way.” 

Some of the area groups who have performances planned include the Princess Theater in Sanford and the Office of Diversity Initiatives at UCF as well as several church and community groups. Anyone who would like more information about how to participate are encouraged to contact Pastor Coffin at 321-228 -4599 or jim@interfaithfl.org, or contact the Holocaust Center at 407-628-0555.


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