Chapter Summary: Part 3

Our preview performances are THIS weekend!  Please join us as we bring this story to life!  

Stretch - Supprt

Despite rumors of Hitler’s death, Elli and her mother are tattooed with a serial number; liberation does not seem close.  Elli worries as her mother’s strong will begins to crack.  The constant toll of starvation and thirst are taking its toll and Elli must convince her mother to continue working, for the alternative is a death sentence.  Fortunately, a rainstorm brings life-giving water with a thin thread of hope.  Even beaten, shaved, and starved as she is, Elli finds her mother beautiful in the wash of rain.

Elli and her mother slept in wooden beds like these.
Elli and her mother slept in wooden beds like these.

But this new strength will not last.  Elli and her mother are moved to new barracks with wooden beds.  Though the army blankets are an improvement, the unwieldy beds accommodate twelve women per square and are packed with rows of people.  The bunk above them cracks under the weight of so many and collapses on her Elli’s mother.  Despite her pleas, the women on the bunk above do not move off of the bunk, trapping her mother until fellow inmates help dislodge her.

Elli’s mother is taken to the hospital where a doctor tells Elli that her mother is paralyzed and will not regain consciousness.

Elli finds a small hole in the hospital wall right next to her mother’s bed.  She is able to whisper words of comfort to her mother in between her work, but she must be careful as it is forbidden for prisoners to dawdle around the hospital.

A guard finds her outside the hospital and Elli is punished.  She is forced to kneel for 24 hours without food or drink, and cannot move on pain of death.  As she kneels, Elli watches a new batch of prisoners enter the camp.  Elli is amazed to see people entering the camp looking well-fed and without the posture of an inmate.  As the column marches towards the columns of smoke, Elli fears that the stories about the gas chambers and the crematoriums are true.

As the month’s selection draws near, Elli fears for her mother, who is still in the hospital.   Despite the original diagnosis, her mother is not completely paralyzed, but cannot walk unsupported.  Those who do not pass the inspection disappear. Knowing that staying in the hospital would doom her, Elli and her old neighbors from her village help smuggle her mother out of the infirmary.

Annie portrays Laura Friedmann (Elli's mother) in our production.
Anne-Marie Talmadge portrays Laura Friedmann (Elli’s mother) in our production.

In a twist of fate, Elli’s mother manages to pass inspection, but an old wound on Elli’s leg keeps Elli held back.  Knowing that staying would cost her life, Elli sneaks back into the selection line, covering her leg with her dress.  The soldiers do not recognize her and Elli rejoins her mother.

Though they have survived the selection, they are far from safe.  A minor scuffle over a handkerchief nearly gets Elli beaten to death by an SS woman.  However, their harsh treatment lightens when they are moved to a new labor camp at a German factory.  They are given soap, towels, and even real clothes and winter coats.

As Elli delights in her newfound clothing, she reads the name of a girl sewn into the label of her coat: Leah Kohn.  Elli realizes that all the clothing belonged to other Jews—many of whom may be dead. Feeling that she is now an accomplice to the brutality visited on these people, Elli silently begs the former owners for forgiveness.


Chapter Summary: Part 2

This summary only covers the bare bones of the book, so if you have a chance, get out there and read the book for yourself!  It’s only 200 pages and a fantastic read.  Don’t forget to buy your tickets for Stretch Dance’s special preview performances.  


PART 2: 

People were crammed into cattle cars like these during the Holocaust. Passengers were not given food or allowed off the train until they reached their destination.

On the cart ride to their undisclosed location, Elli talks to a young Hungarian soldier.  The friendly young man doesn’t know where they’re taking Elli and her fellow Jews from the ghetto, but promises to safeguard her book of poems.

Elli and her family are transferred to the hands of the SS and herded into cattle cars.  There is not enough room for everyone to sit, so those who aren’t lucky enough to get a spot near the walls are forced to stand and crouch for four days.

It is night when the cattle car finally comes to a stop.   There is confusion everywhere but it is impossible to miss the huge sign: AUSCHWITZ.  Elli follows her mother and Aunt Serena as they drift towards the group women walking to the left, but an SS officer grabs hold of Elli’s braid.  He stops Elli and her mother from following the other women, pointing them towards the other gate.  “You are sixteen now,” he tells the fourteen-year-old Elli.

The man was Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, and the line of unsuspecting Jews had been heading directly to the gas chambers.

Denai portrays Aunt Serena in our production.  Come to the preview to see her amazing solo!
Denai portrays Aunt Serena in our production. Come to the preview to see her amazing solo!

Aunt Serena is not allowed to join Elli and her mother and is shoved back into the line to the left.  Though she does not yet know that the line leads to the gas chambers, Elli calls out to her: “Aunt Serena!  Aunt Serena!  I’ll never see you again!”

Once in the camp, the Jews are stripped of their clothing, their hair, and their dignity.  In their place, they are given a sack dress with no other clothing to protect from the elements.  However, things lighten when Elli and her mother find other members of their family; Aunt Celia and her cousins.

Life in the camps is brutal. They labor for twelve hours and more in the hot sun without protection and with little water.  What little water they do manage to find is filled with gravel and putrefied water, and their only dinner is a thin soup seasoned with sawdust and worms.

At first, Elli cannot drink the fetid water, but circumstances numb her more and more to the inhumane conditions.   Rumors of gas chambers circulate the camps, but no one dares to speak out of it. The threat of death and punishment loom over their heads.

Stretch - Jill
Jill truly captures the spirit of Elli Friedmann in our production.

Working conditions worsen at the labor camp, and an ill-timed downpour brings down the wrath of the SS soldiers on Elli’s group of workers.  The chilling rain had slowed the work of the prisoners, and Commandant Goetz orders that one out of every ten prisoners must be shot at dawn.

But when the dawn breaks, no SS officers come for them.  They are lucky. A factory in the north has risen up in revolt and has focused the SS’s attention.  Elli and her commando are safe for one more day, at the expense of the lives lost in the uprising.

Chapter Summary: Part 1

I hope that everyone is buying their tickets for Stretch Dance’s special preview performances.  To help prepare you for the show, I’ll be posting a plot summary so that you can follow along while you’re watching.  Or better yet, go out and read the book!


Stretch - I Have LivedPART ONE:

Elli’s nightmare account starts with a dream; a thirteen-year-old’s dream of studying in Budapest.  She is a bright student at her school in Hungary, an avid poet, and even manages to stay on speaking terms with the handsome Janci Novak, though Elli’s mother despairs of her ever being truly pretty.

But all is not well with her idyllic town on the banks of the Danube.  The Hungarian military police frequently raid her family’s house in the middle of the night, confiscating anything ranging from tea to silk scarves for their scant connection to the enemy side.

Elli’s dream of attending school in Budapest is quickly smashed when her older brother, Bubi, brings back news that the Germans have invaded the city.  Her school in her village is also shut down and each Jew must stitch the infamous yellow stars onto their clothing.

The German invasion escalates the violence brought against the Jews in her village.  Contact between Christians and Jews is illegal, but jeering and insults still plague Elli the few times she ventures out.

Within a matter of months, the order comes for Elli and her family to relocate to a ghetto.  Multiple families are crammed into each tiny house, but Elli manages to take comfort in the sense of community.  While living outside the walls of the ghetto, the Jews were subject to hatred and discrimination.  Within the walls, each person can identify with the other, bonding them together in spite of the uncertain future.

Unfortunately, even this comfort is soon ripped from Elli.  All men between the ages of eighteen to forty are called to the labor camps, including Elli’s father.  Elli begs to be awoken half an hour before her father leaves, wishing to tell him of her love, but he leaves before she gets a chance to relay her message to him.  She wakes in just enough time to hear the carriages clattering away in the distance.

Budapest, Festnahme von Juden
Jews being marched through Budapest.

The Jews still at the ghetto begin to prepare for their own liquidation.  They are told that they must surrender all paper goods to the guards, and that the items will be returned.  Unconvinced, Elli sneaks a book of her own poems out of the pile, and not a moment too soon.  The guards burn the photos, letters, and books—including the Torah—to ash in front of their previous order.

But not all are willing to fall in line complacently.  Elli’s usually staid Aunt Serena raves at the injustice inside of the family’s rooms, breaking all their valuables so that their oppressors would not take them after they had left.  She initially refuses to leave the ghetto, declaring that she would rather die there, but Elli’s mother convinces her to settle down.  At dawn, they head for the camps.


Read Part 2 next week!  (Or skip ahead and read the book!)

Stretching Past the Limitations

Stretch - Fearless Leader Lyndell 2
Lyndell is always on her game!

I know we make it look easy, but putting up a brand new original production with a young company can have a lot of pitfalls. Luckily, our fearless leader Lyndell has thought of a way around several of the issues.

How does Lyndell choreograph for dancers from different styles?
Our company consists of dancers who have studied anything from hip hop to flamenco, so you’d think it’d be incredibly difficult to make the corps pieces looks cohesive and strong. It probably is, but Lyndell makes it seem easy. Though all of us in the company come from a different dance background, everyone has an incredibly strong acting ability that helps knit us together. The movement in the group pieces is often very fluid and simple, but uses timing, ripples  and acting to keep the pieces dynamic.

Stretch - Anne

The dance solos are a very special treat. Lyndell tailors each dance to the soloist’s abilities and strengths, so each solo is absolutely stunning to watch! The solos are where you’ll see the flavor of where each dancer comes from, which makes the piece much more personal to us as we continue to build it.

How do we get by with just one rehearsal a week?
The great thing about rehearsing once a week is that we can slowly build our company. Many of us perform in other productions at the same time, and all of us have at least one other day job. Though it can be tough to keep the energy going at 9pm on a Saturday night, it’s great to end our week with Stretch! It means that each dancer has some homework when we go home, but it also gives us more time to work on the story behind movements.

It can also be difficult when performers are absent due to work and other shows, but we take a video (not the ones that you guys get to see!) of the combinations each week so that everyone can catch up and stay on the same page.

How do you get the word out about a young company?
Our social media extraordinaire, Matt Lardner, does a fantastic job of updating Stretch Dance Co.’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and makes our amazing videos each week. It may sound silly, but social media can mean a lot these days. Besides, it’s a great way to share with our friends and family everything that we’ve been doing!  And of course, we’re using our Preview Performances to get the word out and give you a sneak peak into the amazing work that we’ve been doing.  Hope to see you there!

Stretch - Family

Guest Post: From a Third-Generation Survivor

Stretch - laura and taffa
Laura Faiwiszewski with her grandmother and the author of I Have Lived a Thousand Years, Livia Bitton-Jackson!

A post from the author’s granddaughter, Laura Faiwiszewski! 

Not to be confused with the eloquent writer of the Stretch Dance Company blog, my name is also Laura (I like this guest blogger–she should do a blog every week–the other Laura), and I am one of Livia Bitton-Jackson’s granddaughters.

I heard about the I Have Lived a Thousand Years dance production from my grandmother, and I was immediately excited with the idea of the project. Telling the story of the Holocaust through dance, and a story about my own grandmother’s experiences to top it all off, sounded like an amazing way to honor the memories of those who perished, as well as an inspiring way to teach our present generation about the lessons of the horrible cruelty of the Nazis. While the Holocaust happened over half a century ago, it is still very relevant, and I know that this production will prove that to its audience.

I would like to share a little bit about myself. I am currently an undergraduate student in Rutgers University in New Jersey and majoring in Psychology. I am active among the Jewish community on campus, as I served on the Hillel student board (an organization that creates opportunities for Jewish students to celebrate and explore their Jewish identity at over 500 university campuses) and I always make sure to be involved in Pro-Israel programming. On another note, although it has almost nothing to do with my major, I have a passion for dance.

Does this count as an audition for the production, Lyndell?  I say she's in!
Does this count as an audition for the production, Lyndell? I say she’s in!

This past year I took a few different dance courses through Mason Gross, Rutgers school for the arts, and I just loved every minute of them (though if I were to be completely honest with myself, I must admit that I’m not the most coordinated or best dancer).

There is just something so special about dance than enables one to express his or her emotions through movement, and it can be as equally emotional and cathartic for an audience. That, along with the actual fun of dancing and improvisation, made me fall in love with dance.

So why am I writing a blog post for the Stretch Dance Company? What inspires me to want to take part in this production, even though I live across the country and can contribute very little to the process?

Well, for starters, my grandmother has always taught me that the Holocaust has very important lessons that must be shared with the rest of the world. I always find myself sharing my grandmother’s story with my peers and passing along her book, because I understand how important it is to constantly share that information. The Holocaust was a very dark time in world history, and it wasn’t only a tragedy among the Jewish people. At least 5 million people, such as homosexuals, gypsies, people with disabilities, and others were brutally murdered, along with the 6 million+ Jews that were killed.

The Holocaust was a violation against humanity as a whole, not just against these specific groups. It is important to learn from the cruelties and evilness of the Holocaust, but it is also important to remember the kindness and heroism that took place.

Many Jews continued to secretly practice their religion in the camps, even though they knew they would be killed if caught, because the hope and inspiration they got from their rituals gave them the strength to continue to survive.

Stretch - Holocaust survivors
Photo: Uriel Sinai for The New York Times.

There were gentiles who hid Jews in their houses to keep them safe, even though they were putting their own families in danger as a result. Many inspirational stories come out of the Holocaust that teach us to never give up hope, to stand up against evil, and to always help those who need it.

This coming semester, I will be interning through the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, teaching children and teenagers in public schools about the Holocaust. Teaching the world about this black mark in our history is something that is so important to me, because I really believe it is important to learn from the mistakes of those before us to make sure it never happens again for anyone.

That is why I think this production is so incredible- it sets out to teach people of our generation about the cruelties that can take place, as well as the kindness and hope that can be used to combat hatred.

Stretch Dance Company’s production of I Have Lived a Thousand Years will convey the lessons of the Holocaust in a new way, as it will be expressed through the powerful tool of dance. It will give the audience a new way to relate to and to understand the Holocaust. I’m sure this production will give its audience the motivation to fight against hate and to create a brighter future. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.