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Children, Conflict and the Art(s) of Hope

By Lisa Peschel 

In a pilot project intended to serve as a model for further cooperation, Performing the Jewish Archive’s theatre researcher, Lisa Peschel, collaborated with Simon Benson, drama tutor at York’s Bootham School, and Heather Boyce, head of education development at the Anne Frank Trust, to develop Children, Conflict and the Art(s) of Hope. This event, which included a performance by Bootham School pupils based on works created by children in the Terezín/Theresienstadt ghetto and the Trust’s exhibition on Anne Frank’s life, was featured in York’s Festival of Ideas on 24 and 25 June and presented at Bootham School’s Parents’ Day on 1 July.

Simon, who took the lead on developing the performance, prepared his pupils for the project by inviting Lisa and Heather to speak with them about the experience of young European Jews during World War II.   Heather trained other pupils as peer guides for the exhibition, which was installed in the school for a week before the performance.   Simon then interspersed scenes from the script, which was written by 14-year old prisoner Hanuš Hachenburg and published in Peschel’s anthology Performing Captivity, Performing Escape:  Cabarets and Plays from the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto, with songs and poems by other children and a video montage based on their artworks. As Simon wrote in the programme,

The play is a curious mixture of dark fairy tale, satire and comedy. The brevity of its scenes and its episodic structure make for a fast-moving play that is often difficult to keep up with and make sense of. But it is precisely this craziness that I love about it! Working with our students at Bootham on the play, we have enjoyed so much the energy and childlike playfulness that lies at its heart. Directing and performing Looking for a Spectre has confronted us with the obvious realisation that it was written by a child and to be enjoyed by an audience of children. How could any play so written not be full of energy, fun, light and darkness?

Spectators were struck by the history of the ghetto and the young prisoners’ ways of coping with their internment.   As one audience member wrote, ‘I was previously unaware of the story of the Terezin Ghetto and certainly hadn’t previously thought of humour as a way of dealing with this kind of thing’.   

PtJA co-investigator Lisa Peschel hopes that other schools will follow Bootham School’s lead.  ‘The Anne Frank Trust has developed a very effective method of installing their exhibition and training peer guides to educate their fellow pupils.  We offer the schools an additional activity – theatrical performance – that will engage even more pupils and further the Trust’s goal:   to empower young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to challenge all forms of prejudice and discrimination.   


Click here to see a video recording of the event. 

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