April 23, 2024
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Yavneh Academy Holocaust Play Honors Savior of 14,000 French Jews

Yavneh Academy’s eighth grade Holocaust production was presented twice on Thursday, May 16, in the Paramus High School auditorium. The morning production hosted students from nearby Paramus West School as well as Yeshivat Noam and the Gerrard Berman Day School. In his introductory remarks, Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school at Yavneh, welcomed the student audience by noting that Yavneh’s annual production, which has been ongoing since its inception in 1977, addresses the issue of senseless hate and its horrific ramifications.

“Our program about hate starts with you. In our current environment, where recent acts of hate have been performed on our doorstep as well as worldwide, you can help bring peace to our world by standing up to bullying whenever and wherever it is perpetrated,” he said.

This year’s production, titled “A Forger’s Life: The Adolfo Kaminsky Story,” was directed by Rabbi Shmuel Burstein, Yavneh’s Holocaust Studies director. Rabbi Burstein, who has directed these plays since 2002, commented, “One of the most striking features of the Kaminsky story is that the world nearly lost the chance to learn of the extraordinary courage and heroism of Adolfo Kaminsky. He did not even tell his own daughter about his exploits until 10 years ago. Kaminsky serves as yet another reminder to us all of the infinite value of one human being. One young man, with exquisite talent and genius, became an angel of rescue for over 14,000 French Jews.”

Dominique Cieri has been involved in the writing of the annual screenplay and training the students in the myriad skills of production and acting for more than 22 years. Every one of the 92 students in the class participated in the production, be it through acting, set design, props or staging.

Barbara Rubin, associate principal of the middle school, shared, “Our eighth graders have learned valuable life lessons through the production and shared them with friends, family, teachers and students from local yeshivot and public schools.”

The story of Adolfo Kaminsky takes place in Paris, which was scarred by the Holocaust. A city that traditionally conjured up scenes of joy, beauty and dignity became an ugly, terrifying and disgraceful “trap” for Parisian Jews. In the summer of 1942, when tens of thousands of Jews were being rounded up in Paris, not one organized plan of rescue was mounted on behalf of the city’s hapless Jewish victims.

Seventeen-year-old Adolfo Kaminsky, born in Argentina, went to Paris with his parents and siblings in 1942 just in time to be deported to the Drancy concentration camp along with thousands of fellow Parisians. Fortunately, the family’s South American citizenship gained them their release. Upon their return to Paris, young Adolfo was recruited to join a special secret movement, called the Sixth Section, within the Jewish community, which was tasked with providing the Gestapo and the SS with the names and addresses of all Parisian Jews. Through Adolfo’s expertise in dyes, erasures and forging, he was able to produce life-saving documents for this secret movement that certified that the bearers of the certificates were not of Jewish background or faith. Adolfo’s work was brilliant, deceptive and fraught with peril every day. Thousands of Jewish lives were saved through his work. Throughout France, angry German and French Nazi sympathizers were furiously searching for “the forger.” At the time of his exploits, Kaminsky was not yet 18 years old.

The production was set against simple background panels and often featured eerie and foreboding French music that lent an appropriate atmosphere to the play. The eighth grade actors were visibly fully involved with their characters and were able to convey their desperation. The feelings of responsibility for one another throughout their dire circumstances were well portrayed.

Gabriel Rothman and Chani Herman shared the role of Adolfo Kaminsky. When asked about playing the hero of the production, Rothman shared, “Playing the lead role in this play was a really great and meaningful experience. It was an honor to portray the story of a hero like Adolfo Kaminsky who saved thousands of lives. As I was memorizing my lines, I was telling the story of the Holocaust and honoring the memories of those who lost their lives.”

Herman, who shared the leading role with Rothman, added, “I am so glad I could be a part of this memorial performance. Knowing that my grade was displaying such a great event like the Holocaust was truly touching. Gabe and I have worked hard to perfect not only our acting skills, but the way we convey the message of those who have perished in history. It has been an amazing opportunity to recreate Adolfo Kaminsky’s heroic story to audiences of different schools.”

Kaminsky, currently 94, resides in Paris where he is involved in photography. He has addressed many student audiences about his exploits, and in 2009, his memoir, co-written with his daughter, was published.

At the evening performance, memorial candles to the 6 million kedoshim were introduced by candle readers and lit. A moving rendition of the Yizkor prayer, recited by Rabbi Shmuel Burstein, brought the program to a close.

By Pearl Markovitz

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