I’m delighted that Circa Theatre is presenting a reading of Dean Parker’s play Shirley and Bill, based on Shirley Smith: An Examined Life, during the upcoming New Zealand Festival in Wellington. Dean Parker is a legend and with Jane Waddell directing, Carmel McGlone playing Shirley and Gavin Rutherford playing Bill, it promises to be a great occasion. Details: 29 February at 2 p.m. in Circa One. For more information and tickets, see Shirley and Bill.
I’m delighted and deeply honoured to be chosen as the inaugural speaker for the Friends of the Turnbull Library in their proposed three-year sponsorship of an event at the AWF. I will be highlighting some of the many primary sources I used from the treasures held in the Turnbull Library. This is a FREE event.
Sunday 19 May, 11.30 – 12.30 p.m. Waitākere Room, Aotea Centre.
The Jewish Community in Szombathely has opened a new exhibition with special emphasis on women. I’m delighted to learn that The Violinist was a useful source. The sharing and recovery of the past continues. See the leaflet: leporello-elekt_eng
Róbert Balogh, who has translated the curator’s narrative and forthcoming album from Hungarian to English, sent me photos that historian Krisztina Kelbert located in the Savaria Museum of Szombathely. (I went there in 2008 but came away empty-handed!)
I found it particularly moving to see the happy face of young Klári in 1940 and the striking picture of her mother Zsuzsa (1941) that captures her warmth and wisdom. I’m only sad that Clare (Klári in her former life, before she came to New Zealand) did not live to see this. She struggled hard to remember her mother’s face. The third is Klári’s aunt, Rózsi Brill (1938), who survived the Holocaust and came to New Zealand with Clare. An earlier photo of Klári and Mihály shows they would rather be outside playing – or in Klári’s case, playing the violin! But it’s wonderful to have all these.
On Tuesday 24 March The Violinist was ‘launched’ in Hungary with a public event held in Veszprém, hosted by the University of Pannonia and the Library of Veszprém County. This event was inspired by the article András Dési wrote in Népszabadság (see my previous post). András was invited to take part in the presentation. He sent me this account:
First, I have to say that I’m still under the emotional impact of the event.
It was very well organized, about 50-60 students of the University of Veszprém attended.
I can only appreciate the highest standards of the efforts of the organizers, Ms Eszter ADAM specialist at the Eötvös Károly County Library, Ms Boglárka FALUSSY, Director of the American Corner Veszprém and Ms Judit PALMANN, Director of the County Library. They really deserve all acknowledgement and honour.
The event began with music, two students played violin pieces of Béla Bartók.
After I read the message of Sarah, I introduced Sarah, and spoke about the book, and Boglarka read some excerpts of The Violinist.
Eszter found on the internet a video interview with Clare which was made on the occasion when she donated her two violins to music students in NZ.
It is an excellent video. Clare was saying that one violin was a “female one”, the other a “male one” and how much the latter one complicated her life. Some times she hated the male one, but mostly loved it.
The video was played and followed by a video message of Tibor Weinberger (Tibby Weston).
At the end of the event an old Jewish song was played from the internet, performed by a very famous Hungarian folk singer.
I think everybody attending the event was deeply moved.
Tibby’ Weston’s video, just over 5 minutes, is well worth watching. Tibby, now aged 95, was Clare’s first love and as far as I know, the only living person who knew her before the Holocaust. They found each other again decades later and he remained her dear friend to the end of her life. Tibby was hugely helpful to me in my research and I’m thrilled to have him on record here, from his home in Texas. He answers questions the organizing committee put to him, reading their questions in Hungarian, answering in English. (The questions are understood by his answers.) He illustrated his answers by reading extracts of Clare’s letters to him, again in English.
Tibby himself is quite something. It was originally suggested he should have a Skype interview, but he has a hearing problem which makes that difficult. Undeterred, he came up with this alternative idea, taught himself to make his ‘movie’, then posted it on You Tube! http://youtu.be/wcc2KwqB0Vo
During our email conversations with Klara Szentirmay, who helped organize the event from Wellington, Tibby suggested the music to end the event. He explained:
There is an old Hungarian Jewish song that people in the death camps were singing, that men in the labor camps facing death sang at night to find peace. Here is a version sang by Marta Sebesteny with a violin crying the melody. I am not sure this is being heard in Hungary today, but the song was written in the 15th century and it is the equivalent of Amazing Grace, the melody of the slaves. Listen to it and see how it makes you feel. It was part of the music I sent Clare. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siZtBxCCTDs
While Clare’s feelings about Hungary were complicated, she wished her story to be known there. And it’s appropriate that this first presentation was to a predominantly young audience. She was very involved in Holocaust education for the young, and since she donated her violins to what is now called the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University, she took a close interest in and supported the young musicians who earned the privilege of playing her beloved instruments. Here is the video that András refers to above: https://vimeo.com/53551302
I’d like to thank everyone mentioned above, and anyone else who helped make this event a successful and memorable occasion. For those working towards a Hungarian translation and publication of The Violinist, I hope the response is promising.
Last month I completed a series of oral history interviews for the New Zealand Theatre Archive with a trip to Christchurch to interview Elric Hooper, artistic director of Court Theatre from 1979 to 2000. Originally a protégé of Ngaio Marsh on whose recommendation he got into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in 1958, Elric’s acting career then took off in what was a most exciting era of transformation in British theatre. Among other things, he was in Joan Littlewood’s iconic musical entertainment of 1963, Oh! What a Lovely War. He recently spoke about this in Appointment with Des Wilson on Radio New Zealand: www.radionz.co.nz/concert/programmes/…/audio/…/oh-what-a-lovely–w…
Nola Millar was sometimes described as New Zealand’s Joan Littlewood. After listening to Elric, I’m not sure the comparison is apt, but they were both courageous, innovative, political and extraordinarily individual. Elric worked for Nola Millar on a visit to New Zealand in 1972/3. He was struck then by how much the general level of theatre consciousness in this country had risen since his previous trip home in 1969. ‘Best of all,’ he observed, ‘there was a school. Nola Millar, that courageous and disconcertingly honest woman, was running a sensible full-time training scheme for aspiring actors in Wellington.’ (Landfall, ‘Making Our Own Mistakes’, December 1975.)
After we finished recording his life, Elric read Nola Millar: A Theatrical Life. I share his response here, compliments and all – shamelessly wanting new readers. More seriously, Elric’s reflections and perspective of my subject are of special value.
Finished your biography Nola Millar – A Theatrical Life last night. My admiration is boundless. I began with a sense of duty but was soon overtaken by the story and the enthusiasm for this history of the formative days of the New Zealand professional theatre. For example all the stuff about the financial history of the New Zealand Players – its origins, its work and its decline was new to me. I saw all their early work and was bowled over by its decor and glamour. Also the inner story of the philandering of Dick Campion was a revelation – and so bold to publish while he was still alive.
What an enigma your central subject was! When the name Nola Millar is mentioned now all I see is a tall slender apparition going out the door. The absence of a sexual life and her constant self-neglect – teeth and fish-and-chips – is made substantial only by her obsession with racing, her distant friendships, her occasional flaring of temper – and of course her great work in the theatre and the drama school. Yet she lives centrally through the book – a kind of ever-present ghost. I thought the death sequence particularly moving. How rare it is to read the details of decline and demise.
Also enlivening was the roll call – Maria Dronke (who I always thought rather odd and grand reciting Keats in a heavy Viennese accent) Ngaio Marsh, of course (seen from a distance and not always the Easter Island statue of authority and grandeur) Michael Langham (whom I worked for at the Old Vic intellectual and beset) George Webby (whose gnat-like humour was as much
decorative as useful) Mike Nicolaidi (whose down-to-earth attitudes got things done) Michael Haigh, Ray Henwood, Don Selwyn (all good actors) Anne Flannery (whose mental decay trumped her theatrical endeavours) and so many more.
You build a picture of a city aspiring and with that certainty of superiority that is necessary to get things done. I am still surprised by the literary quality of the plays from Shakespeare to Brecht. But as you say it was easier for amateurs without pay to stage some of the great monstrous works like Mother Courage and Three Sisters. (I sometimes wondered if the theatre group actually had the rights to some of the pieces done. Brecht and his heirs were very careful of his copyright and some of the West-end hits seemed too recent to be free – but those were the days when New Zealand was at the ends of earth not the internet.)
I could go on but suffice it to say, I think you have done a wonderful job,
This morning I received an email from Clare’s childhood sweetheart and lifelong friend Tibby Weston of Texas who helped me in my research for The Violinist. Now in his 90s, Tibby has written about his own life as a Holocaust survivor in his autobiography The Vision (Xlibris Corp 2002) and continues to write on related issues. He tells me, ‘I am, as Clare was and most survivors are, a little bit insane. There is a lot of material on this issue on the Internet. One report, however, found that those survivors who wrote a book about their experiences belong to the 8% who show no significant PTDS symptoms. I am attaching my newsletter from January, when it was winter here. I hope you’ll like it.’
I do like it, and share it here:
You hear about veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from PTSD in surprisingly large numbers. What you don’t hear about is that of World War 2 veterans and Holocaust survivors experiencing a massive re-occurrence of PTSD with the advance of old age.
Elderly Holocaust survivors show a high simultaneous presence of chronic PTSD (91.8%), with psychotic disorders more than 50 years after the experience of the massive psychic trauma of the Holocaust.
The occurrence of chronic PTSD of such magnitude is significantly higher among Holocaust survivors than the rate reported for war veterans, which is less than 45%. This difference may be related to the unique nature of the Holocaust trauma, combining dehumanization, confrontation with death, and massive loss for a prolonged period. The exposure to such trauma puts into effect mechanisms to deal with traumatic memory and its psychic repercussions.
The weather in Europe during the winter of 1944-45 was some of the worst ever recorded in the 20th century with the temperature going below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. At Christmas, the Hungarian capital was surrounded, so that hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as German and Hungarian soldiers were trapped in the besieged city.
I was lucky that suffering from typhoid fever in the spring of 1945 wiped out most of my memory of the trauma of the winter of 1944-45. I am, however, experiencing a gradual return of memories of the traumatic experiences and I am less and less able to successfully hide or mask such memories.
Experts discovered that survivors of traumatic events could overcome debilitating psychosis and PTSD through “historicizing” their memories by facing them and writing about them. Among Holocaust survivors these amount to about 8%. In contrast, other psychotic survivors are unable to reach this calm state of balance and for them memory is a lifelong burden.
I am now faced with the dilemma of writing about recurring memories and thus prevent developing possible debilitating old age PTSD, or trusting my defense mechanism that made it possible to reach old age without burdening the world with memories that are best left untold.
Today’s world has its own horrors. Millions are in refugee camps fighting for bare survival, genocide is rampant, and billions have no access to minimum civilized standards of life. Looking at the past from the bird’s eye view of nine decades, there is really no good reason to dwell on the past horrors. History keeps repeating itself. I fervently hope that our loved ones be spared PTSD and the recurring thereof.
For the thousands of veterans, however, there is hope. Learn from the experience of Holocaust survivors. Perhaps someone somewhere will start a movement to assist today’s veterans to “historicize” their traumatic memories. It will help them mobilize effective skills for coping and adapting to social roles and prevent recurring PTSD at advancing old age. Perhaps some college, or university could establish courses in writing memoirs as a patriotic undertaking to assist veterans of recent wars.
As to myself I have a plan. Survive the cold and soon it will be spring with memories of winters gone. The red bud trees will bloom, the humming birds will buzz by again and the exciting signs of rebirth and new beginnings will wipe out memories of the winter, and all the winters before.
P.S. IT IS SPRING! HALLELUJAH!
Congratulations to St Matthew’s Collegiate School in Masterton, which this year celebrates 100 years of education. I had a happy Form II year there half a century ago. To anyone stumbling on this site who remembers me (Sarah Greville) I’d love to hear from you. I’d especially love to hear from my English teacher, Miss Bragg (Robyn?), to thank her. She’s one of many reasons why I’m grateful for my year at St Matthew’s. I was therefore delighted to be asked to write four essays for the book that was launched at the beginning of the weekend’s celebrations. I explained it to the launch gathering as follows:
For my first piece, about how the school began, I depended largely on the school archives, but I was able to add insights about the first headmistress, Evelyn Whitehead, and her sister Yetti, by talking to their relatives, including Yetti’s daughter, Kathleen Bell, now in her 90s, and Evelyn’s granddaughter, Barbara Simons. I was very taken with Evelyn and Yetti, who were both university educated in Dunedin, which was then the most progressive city in the country regarding women’s education – very different from Masterton. Aged just 24 and 21, they came here in 1914 to start St Matthew’s. They brought high ideals, and an attitude that girls can do anything.
Helen Dashfield’s comprehensive history of St Matthew’s, To the Stars published at the 75th anniversary in 1989, fills big gap between the beginning and my second narrative, which is on Senior College in the 1980s. Helen herself is an important figure in this, and in the story on integration. These were turbulent times and interesting for me to research. Others echoed Erik Pedersen’s recollection that it was a hellish period.
I interviewed many people about this decade. I haven’t referred to them all but they all helped me get a better understanding of the subject. I also waded through volumes of documents to get an overall picture that included Rathkeale and Hadlow, but my account is from St Matthew’s point of view and I don’t apologise for that bias. Ultimately it’s a triumphant story. Some of you have mothers and grandmothers who played their part as pupils, parents, teachers and old girls.
Lastly my final piece brings me to you today. I asked about the changes in society that are in turn changing school life, and I heard about the digital revolution. It seemed strange in the light of 100 years when the school struggled with two world wars, economic depression, free-falling pupil rolls and near bankruptcy that today the focus should fall on the mobile phone, but it’s a huge issue.
This isn’t specific to St Matthew’s but how it and other issues of today are dealt with at St Matthew’s are specific, reflecting the school’s Special Character as defined in the Integration Agreement. And that goes right back to the core principles Evelyn Whitehead and her sister Yetti brought to the school in 1914.
That’s one way of looking at it. The rest of the book, compiled by Jan Pedersen (Bowie) and Sue Franck (Bowie) is packed with photos, samples of writing and a timeline, telling many other stories.
For more about centennial projects, click on centenary.
This week the Documentation and Information Centre (DIZ), at Stadtallendorf in Germany, opened an exhibition commemorating 25 years of the memorial site to Münchmühle.
This was the camp to which Clare Galambos Winter was sent from Auschwitz in August 1944, one of 1000 women, mostly Hungarian Jews, to provide slave labour in the munitions factories.
In The Violinist I have described their arrival:
Continuing their journey into Hesse, they arrived on 19 August at their destination, a village called Allendorf. To their surprise, they saw no grey rubble or any sign of war, but rather, neat houses and flower gardens. The trees were red and gold which was unusual in August, but they thought little of that as they walked a few kilometres through a ‘gorgeous’ pine forest to a small camp. Here too, flowers had been planted. It seemed like a dream.
Named Münchmühle after the nearby mill, their new camp had been converted from a forced labour camp to a concentration camp by surrounding it with a three-metre barbed-wire fence. Its new inmates noticed that it wasn’t electrified. The wooden huts had dry wooden floors and bunks. ‘On each bunk was a thin grey blanket … One light bulb hung in the middle of the ceiling. We felt as if we had landed in the Ritz.’
It was infinitely better than Auschwitz, but, as they soon realised, it was to be no holiday camp.
I visited Stadtallendorf in 2008 as part of my research for The Violinist. The help I received there from Fritz Brinkmann-Frisch and Lydia Hartleben at the Documentation and Information Centre (DIZ) was invaluable to my research for this important chapter.
Hot news in July 2012:
- A useful resource about New Zealand film and television and theatre is Screentalk, New Zealand On Screen. The latest interview is Ian Pryor interviewing iconic actor Ray Henwood. Talking about his life and career, Ray pays tribute to Nola Millar ‘First Lady of New Zealand Theatre’.
- The New Zealand Theatre Archive has been awarded Lotteries funding to continue their interviews of people who shaped our modern professional theatre.
- I was saddened by George Webby’s passing last month. I first interviewed George in 1995 for the Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School Oral History Project, and later again for my biography of Nola Millar who was his friend and mentor. George took over the New Zealand Drama School from Nola on her death in 1974 and directed it for 16 years. The same qualities that make him a successful educator and theatre director – generosity, wisdom and much more (not least a wicked sense of humour) shine through his accounts of his life both in interview and in his memoir, Just Who Does He Think He Is? (Steele Roberts 2006). We joked that we were joined at the spine – our books were reviewed together, they sit together on my bookshelf as they did on his. He is warmly remembered. Ralph McAlister and Danny Mulheron pay tribute to George on Radio New Zealand Upbeat.