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!
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.
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!)