I’ve run into a bit of a conundrum when discussing I Have Live a Thousand Years to friends. I get very excited talking about the company, but I often lose them a bit when I explain that our production is about the Holocaust.
“Isn’t that depressing?” They ask.
Well, it is and it isn’t.
The Holocaust is inarguably one of the greatest tragedies of the modern age, but for every tale of incredible horror, there is an equally incredible tale of heroism. I recently came across one survivor’s incredible story and his cunning and courage had me floored the entire time. If you have a few minutes, you have to listen to how he successfully escaped from the concentration camps…twice. It’s unbelievable.
I think that people often get bogged down when faced with situations as terrible and terrifying as the Holocaust, and often believe that they are too small to change anything in something as huge as say, the Nazi movement.
What I love about Livia Bitton-Jackon’s account is the incredible thread of hope and compassion that she sustains throughout her ordeal. Bitton-Jackson, known as Ellie in her memoir, survives thanks to incredibly small acts of compassion, but those small acts often save her life.
It is as simple as a Nazi guard not reporting her when she is visited by her neighbors, of fellow Jewish prisoners risking their lives to move Ellie’s mother out of the infirmary before she was scheduled to be killed, or even the Angel of Death himself, Josef Mengele, telling Ellie to lie about her age when she steps into Auschwitz (starting next week I’ll start a brief Cliff Notes version of the book so you can follow along!).
Many of these acts you can’t even really call kindnesses, such as a guard nearly beating her to death instead of executing her, but that fraction of an ounce of mercy vouchsafes her another day of life. Yes, her story is still a terrifying account of the evil of mankind, but also of the incredible strength of even the tiniest doses of human compassion.
It is so humbling to work with this material and the irrepressible hope of these people even as they systematically murdered. It is also inspiring to see that no act of kindness, of compassion is useless. Ellie’s proves that even the tiniest of gestures can mean the difference between life and death, between hope and despair.
We can turn away from images of cruelty—and it is natural to do so. But it is only by facing the truth of what happened then that we can confront what is happening now, and what will happen in the future.
“It is your generation’s responsibility to rebuke racism, anti-Semitism, hatred, discrimination…to learn something about the past so that [the Holocaust] will never ever happen again.” – Emery Jacoy, Holocaust survivor