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Stay With Me
This Is My Story & That Lovely Land

In April 1944, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz. Two months later they were able to publish the Vrba-Wetzler Report providing details of conditions in the camp.

"The crematorium contains a large hall, a gas chamber and a furnace. People are assembled in the hall, which holds 2,000. They have to undress and are given a piece of soap and a towel as if they were going to the baths. Then they are crowded into the gas chamber which is hermetically sealed. Several SS men in gas masks then pour into the gas chamber through three openings in the ceiling a preparation of the poison gas maga-cyclon. At the end of three minutes all the persons are dead. The dead bodies are then taken away in carts to the furnace to be burnt."

As a child I avoided the subject of the Holocaust at all costs. If something came on the television or radio, I would turn it off immediately. Millions of people fought against the Nazis - and gave up their lives - so that I might have the luxury of this freedom: the freedom of being able to choose what I did and didn’t see. I just didn’t want to know.

It was a different story when, as a young theologian at Durham University, I found myself having to study the subject in depth, both as part of my Theology and Literature papers, and of course, Ethics. Three things stayed with me from those days: the image of a young Sinti girl, staring out of a cattle truck as she was shipped off to her inevitable death, Elie Wiesel’s beautiful and horrific Night, and Heinz Heger’s seminal The Men With The Pink Triangle. I’d often think of that young girl, wondering what happened to her and how she died. But I never had the courage to write about it.

Last summer, I had a dream. I was standing outside my grandmother’s house. Everything was grey and everyone had left the planet: it was the end of the world. Everything was silent until I heard the rumble of a train, and I saw that image again - the young girl, staring from the cattle truck as she was transported, one of the last few to leave the planet.

I got up and wrote her monologue. But I didn’t know her name. So I googled the Holocaust, and the nightmares of University came back to me. Settela Steinbach. Her name was Settela Steinbach.

Jessica’s monologue followed quickly. And then Kole’s. I showed them to Maria Bates, the director of youth programming. She asked me to complete the piece with a view to it being performed by the youth group. Three weeks later Stay With Me (This is My Story) was delivered to the youth group, they read it, and unanimously voted to perform it. There was a problem though. This Is My Story had parts for only nine actors - and there were twelve in the youth group at that time. New members were also signing up. A companion piece was needed.

Following a reading of the first play, we workshopped some ideas: I wanted something slightly lighter, but that didn’t detract or debase the themes of the first play. We thought it should be set in England. When one of the youth group suggested that it take place over the same time period as the first, my brain started ticking. Stay With Me (That Lovely Land) was born, and one week later was delivered to the youth group.

Historical Accuracy

This Is My Story is set in the closing days of the Death Camps, shortly before their liberation by the Russian Infantry. As the Russian Army advanced, the SS fled the camps, burning as much evidence as they could to cover their tracks. It is unlikely - although not impossible - that certain cells might contain boys and girls together. It is unlikely that the children would have had as much freedom to speak without the presence of a guard. But we are setting it in the last days - and the confusion and uncertainty of the war’s progress is reflected in the play, as boys and girls are thrown in together.

The uniform worn by the SS guard in the play is authentic. The lapels carry the Death Head rather than the SS runes.

The prayers are authentic and the youth group have shown a reverence and commitment to getting them right. Certain prayers would not necessarily have been performed by both boys and girls, but again a certain amount of dramatic license has been used to convey the confusions of those last days.

The rehearsal process and thanks

During rehearsals, the children have been extremely dedicated to the piece. We wanted to make it as real as possible, and many of them have conducted their own research on the period. We were indebted to Pam Lyne for taking part in this project. Her knowledge of the evacuation has proved an inspiration to the group, as has her experience in theatre.

We are also thankful to Bernie Bullbrook who came in to give the group a talk about his experiences as an evacuee. His talk, both humourous and poignant, gave the group plenty to think about. Especially as the theatre in which we first performed the piece was a watch post during the war - and Bernie’s first foray into drama was to raise money for the war effort, in the very room in which we were performing.

I extend my sincere thanks to Maria Bates and Dave Hollander for picking this play to perform, and to Ronae Jolliffe for her dedication and commitment to the project.

But thanks most of all to the youth group who have worked so hard to bring you these plays. One could not wish for a finer band of talented actors to work with. It’s been a pleasure and a delight, and I shall miss you all terribly when it's finally over!

I dedicate this play to the memories of my grandfathers, Joe and Arthur, and to their generation whose sacrifices enable us to be here tonight.

But most of all I dedicate this piece to Settela Steinbach - in memory forever.

Stuart Draper,
March, 2006


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