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 didnt see. I just didnt 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 Wiesels beautiful and horrific Night, and Heinz Hegers
seminal The Men With The Pink Triangle. Id 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 grandmothers
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
I got up and wrote her monologue. But I didnt know her name. So
I googled the Holocaust, and the nightmares of University came back
to me. Settela Steinbach. Her name was Settela Steinbach.
Jessicas monologue followed quickly. And then Koles. 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
Following a reading of the first play, we workshopped some ideas: I
wanted something slightly lighter, but that didnt 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.
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 wars 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
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 Bernies 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. Its 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
the plays were written
on the plays