IMAGES Comes to Mt. Lebanon
“Holocaust survivors won’t be around for much longer to be able to tell their stories,” said Eva Schloss in a BBC interview while filming 116 Cameras, a documentary project created to preserve her memory and likeness as an interactive hologram. “This … will be able to work for the future. For 20, 30, 40 years, young people will still be able to hear the story from us.”
Eva, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor living in London, spent almost nine months in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from May, 1944, until she and her mother were freed by Soviet troops in January, 1945. Her father and brother did not survive. Now, Eva and her friends all over the world are recognizing the need to immortalize her story before it is too late.
One such friend is Jack Ballantyne, Mt. Lebanon Class of ’66, who wrote and directed the one-woman show, IMAGES: Remembrances of the Holocaust—The Eva Schloss Story, which he is bringing to the Mt. Lebanon Fine Arts Center in the high school on Thursday, February 1, at 7:30 p.m.
Ballantyne met Eva while directing Prime Stage’s 1999 production of And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank. Eva came to Pittsburgh to see it because it was based on her memories of Anne, who was her childhood friend and, posthumously, her step-sister.
“Eva’s story has a special link because of Anne Frank,” says Ballantyne. “She actually knew Otto Frank [Anne’s father], which gives her a unique tie to an iconic figure in the Holocaust.”
Eva was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria, in 1929. Her family fled to Amsterdam when Hitler came into power, and they moved into the same apartment building as the Franks. Eva recalls playing with Anne in their courtyard and visiting Anne’s apartment to spend time with her and her sister, Margot.
Like the Franks, Eva’s family went into hiding when it started to become dangerous for the Jews in Amsterdam, but an informant turned them in and they were captured on Eva’s 15th birthday. After spending many horrific months in the Birkenau concentration camp, Eva and her mother, Elfriede, fell ill and were left behind in the camp hospital as the Soviets approached—the Nazis only took the strongest prisoners with them and left the rest for dead.
Eva and Elfriede recovered and returned to Amsterdam in 1945, hoping to reconnect with Eva’s brother, Heinz, and her father, Erich, who were both prisoners at Auschwitz. Weeks later, they received word that Heinz had died from exhaustion during a forced march to Mauthausen, and Erich perished just three days before the end of the war.
Otto Frank was a frequent visitor during this time, as he had also returned to Amsterdam hoping to find his wife and daughters. His only discovery, however, was Anne’s now-famous diary and the news that he lost his entire family.
Elfriede and Otto began working together on publishing the diary. They fell in love and married in November, 1953. Eva, who had a very difficult time coping with her losses and the nightmare of the concentration camp, eventually went on to continue her education and has since committed her life to telling her story—particularly to school children—to help ensure that the Holocaust will not be repeated.
“Eva has been quite involved in my work,” says Ballantyne. “She was heavily involved in the first play I wrote about her, A Light in the Darkness: A Story of Hope During the Holocaust. For IMAGES, she read the first six drafts and OKed one … but her husband was ill at the time, and she couldn’t do more because she was too busy.”
IMAGES premiered at The Youngstown Playhouse in August 2016 as a collaboration between the playhouse and Ballantyne’s production company, J&B Production Arts Services, which he started in the ’70s as a way to manage his contracts with theaters in the area.
“I started out acting in Mr. Myers’ drama class at Mt. Lebanon High School,” says Ballantyne, whose first musical was a high school production of My Fair Lady. “Back then [the ’60s], we performed in a double classroom with a stage in it, and we would do one-act plays for study halls. Students could come see them for free.”
Now Ballantyne’s resume includes hundreds of credits in acting, directing, stage management, writing and television. Admittedly gravitating more toward tech, his company based in Youngstown, Ohio, goes into theaters to help with production services such as props, sound, lighting design and more.
As he was writing and designing IMAGES, he kept portability in mind so that he could take it on the road after its premiere at the Youngstown Playhouse. So far, IMAGES has traveled to New Castle and Cincinnati. Upcoming performances include Robert Morris University, Geauga Lyric Theater and one in Gibsonia, in addition to the Mt. Lebanon performance.
“I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. It’s very easy in, easy out. There’s basically no set, but there are prop pieces and a table and chairs,” he says. “It takes place in the attic of [Eva’s] home in London … It’s just one actress, three tech people and a video that goes with it. It all travels in a van.”
In spite of its simplicity, the play took three years to complete. “This one was hard to start because I had never written a one-person show. I’m so used to writing dialogue, but obviously this person had no one to talk to but the audience,” says Ballantyne. “I kind of fell into the idea of doing this in a retrospective manner. She’s in the attic, and a reporter [unseen] comes to talk to her, which kind of helps move it from subject to subject.”
High school students will have the opportunity to see IMAGES in the morning on Thursday, February 1, and then Ballantyne and will go into classrooms throughout the day to discuss it. “I started in theater there, and now I’m coming back 50-plus years later to do a show! It’s going to be fun for me,” says Ballantyne. The evening performance at 7:30 p.m. is open to the public, followed by a short Q & A.
“We get some really interesting questions, and some people have been really moved,” says Ballantyne. “It’s just so important to know what happened during the Holocaust, what caused it and what could cause it again. It’s good to keep it in front of people because it’s world history. And as the saying goes, history can repeat itself.”
Please note: students who are not scheduled to see the performance during the day at the high school will receive half-off tickets at the box office for the evening performance ($10). Offer also available to Upper St. Clair High School, Jefferson and Mellon middle schools and Keystone Oaks students.