Bethany students meet Holocaust survivor portrayed in play

Nov 13, 2017 by and

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GOSHEN, Ind. — It is rare that a theater cast gets to meet the central character of a real-life story they tell, but that became reality for students at Bethany Christian High School.

Inge Auerbacher, one of the few children who survived Terezin, a Nazi transit camp, was in Goshen Nov. 2-6 to meet the cast members who are staging the dramatized story of her life, The Star on My Heart, Nov. 17-19.

Inge Auerbacher, center, with Elizabeth Eby, left, and Gabi Klopfenstein, who portray her at different stages of her life in The Star on My Heart. — Alicia Thomas

Inge Auerbacher, center, with Elizabeth Eby, left, and Gabi Klopfenstein, who portray her at different stages of her life in The Star on My Heart. — Alicia Thomas

Auerbacher, 82, described her weekend with the cast as magical. She watched the cast perform the play, answered their questions and laughed and cried with them during a candle-lighting service that honored the memory of her relatives who died in concentration camps and after. She also met with Go­shen Mayor Jeremy Stuts­man, who presented her with a key to the city.

Gabi Klopfenstein, a Bethany senior who plays Auerbacher as a young child, said meeting her changed the way she portrayed her character in the transit camp.

“Before meeting Inge, I imagined that as a child she would have been quiet and timid in the face of danger,” Klopfenstein said. “But in reality she was active and had lots of fun. She needed to stay happy to cope with the seriousness of her situation.”

The Star on My Heart is different from many dramatizations of Holocaust experiences in that much of the story is told from the perspective of a child.

The play is appropriate for children to watch, said Bethany theater director Talashia Keim Yoder. Recognizing that there are difficult sections, she also notes that hope is very clear — and has developed a family guide to help parents talk with their children before and after watching the play.

Yoder was initially hesitant when the playwright, Angela Hansen, approached her about Bethany staging the premiere performances for her revised play. However, after reading the script she quickly realized that this is a story that needs to be told.

“We live in a time when fear threatens hope, when injustice and prejudice threaten our very humanity,” Yoder said. “Genocide and prejudice are not limited to World War II-era Germany. They are modern-day realities, around the world and in our towns. Inge reminds us that we must never be bystanders but rather we must be upstanders.”

Auerbacher’s family emigrated to the United States in 1946. She became a chemist and has written memoirs about her experiences in Terezin.

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