Letters to Sala brings history to life

The play is based on the woman, Sala Kirschner in the photo. She poses here in her home with her husband Sidney.

The play is based on the woman, Sala Kirschner in the photo. She poses here in her home with her husband Sidney.

The upcoming spring play, Letters to Sala, chronicles the true story of Ann Kirschner’s discovery of her mother Sala Garncarz Kirschner’s letters, written in seven different Nazi Labor Camps during the Holocaust. Unlike in concentration camps, Nazi soldiers allowed mail to be sent and received inside the labor camps, but letters were to be destroyed once they were read. As a young woman, Sala risked her life in every camp to save and hide away the letters. The letters describe the unimaginable hours and working conditions she faced through her years, as well as discussing the fear and terror of being separated from her family in the middle of war. Sala passed on over 300 letters to her daughter, who, for the first time, began to understand how significant Sala’s role is in Holocaust documentation. The book Sala’s Gift tells this story and is the book that the play is based on.

The play takes place in two different time periods, the 1940s and the 2000s. The past follows Sala through her life in camps and the communication she had with her sisters and friends. The present shows Sala, now much older, passing on the letters to her daughter and granddaughters, and their struggle to decide what to do with the letters.

The cast is sixteen students, comprised of mostly upperclassmen. They have been rehearsing since early January. Many students have done research on their characters and their personal stories because the play is based on a true story. Every character who lived in the 1940s is connected to Sala in different ways and appears in the hundreds of letters she wrote during her time in labor camps.

Senior Madelyn Levine plays Young Sala. To better understand her character and her historical significance, Levine wanted to try and connect as personally as she could to the story and the people involved.

“I read her book, which the play is based on, and I was so touched by her mother’s story. She wrote about it in such an honest way,” Levine said.

Looking to take it a step further, she reached out to Sala’s daughter, Ann Kirschner.

“I contacted her through her website just to tell her how I was in Letters to Sala and was so moved by her mother's story and her book,” Levine said. “I didn’t really expect a reply, but she responded within a few hours with a warm response and a photo of her parents, age 92 and 94.”

Kirschner spoke with Levine about her feelings upon receiving the letters, and her strong belief that the world needed to know Sala’s story. Levine felt even more connected after reading Kirchner’s book, Sala’s Gift.

“I feel like it helped me get to know Sala, particularly her qualities that allowed her to persevere and survive her circumstances… I don’t think I would be able to play this role without all of this information,” Levine said.

Along with their conversation, Kirshner shared a photo with Levine, allowing her to make a more personal connection with the character.

Thanks to Kirschner, Levine expressed how she is continuing to fully understand the historical significance and importance of Sala’s letters.

“Sala was in seven different labor camps, which were different than concentration camps. This show forced me to learn about so many aspects of the Holocaust that I was completely unaware of,” Levine said.

Letters to Sala opens March 10 and will run the 10th and 11th at 7 p.m., and March 12 at 2 p.m. This is the only weekend the play runs, so make sure to look out for those dates and get your tickets early.

On behalf of the cast, Levine expressed how important the show is historically and how much it can teach others about the unfathomable realities of life in World War II.

“I think it’s important to continue to talk about the Holocaust because fewer and fewer survivors remain, which is why I love that we get to use theatre to talk about this part of history,” Levine said.

Posted on March 4, 2017 .