When I was boy in the 1960s (when people had to read real books), the racks of paperbacks outside newsagents often held two best-selling titles by Lord Russell of Liverpool – The Scourge of the Swastika: A Short History of Nazi War Crimes and The Knights of the Bushido: A Short History of Japanese War Crimes. Russell was a legal adviser at both the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and his books contained harrowing pictures of the camps and details of the appalling treatment of the prisoners.
This was largely how my generation, and the one before me, learnt about the horrors of the Holocaust. When I was in my 20s, I read If This Is a Man by Primo Levi which is about Levi’s life in Auschwitz and how he survived it. Levi was a scientist and by detailing some of the horror it was transformed into amazement. The idea of drinking six gallons of so-called soup every day in order to gain any nourishment becomes a question of ‘how’ as much as ‘why’.
The idea. That was in my head. The Holocaust was an idea, a horrifying idea, but not lived experience. And so it is for those of us lucky enough not to have experienced it personally or had relatives in the camps. But how was it for those who did?
Tamara Micner knows, and in Holocaust Brunch she shares what the Holocaust means to her. She intertwines the story of two family friends who survived the Holocaust, met during the war, and subsequently had successful medical careers in Canada, along with her own family who emigrated to Canada after the war and have a particular fascination for the Holocaust, a fascination which Micner did not initially share. In fact, she resisted it like mad until she was attending a wedding in Berlin and couldn’t avoid it any longer.
It’s a personal story and that’s partly what gives this piece of theatre its considerable force. Micner is a charming, funny performer and there were moments when I realised I was laughing and then thought ‘oops. Is this appropriate?’. But nobody glared.
Occasionally she transforms into a quiz show host and asks members of the audience to read from cards containing 10 things people say to her about the Holocaust and then offers a reply.
“How many people in your family died?”
“I don’t know”
“I want you to know my grandparents weren’t Nazis”
“No, but somebody’s grandparents were Nazis.”
She also plays with Jewish stereotypes (‘we’re always late’, ‘we always over-cater’). The show isn’t called Holocaust Brunch for nothing and on arrival there’s a big table laden with rather good beigels smeared with cream cheese and a Traumatini cocktail of orange juice and fizz halfway through.
Trauma is the key. Micner shows us that the suffering of the Holocaust echoes through generations and one wonders if it will ever end.
Although billed as the Northern premiere, Micner has performed the show before in that there London and in Canada, and there are still a few glitches. But it’s nothing an extra rehearsal wouldn’t fix and nothing we cared about as Micner’s charm conquered all. Despite the subject matter, this is an entertaining and enlightening show. Perhaps it should come back again next year and be somewhere more suited to a public performance, such as the Studio at Manchester’s Royal Exchange? Hint hint.
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor
Holocaust Brunch was performed in collaboration with the Manchester Jewish Museum. The Museum works to preserve Jewish heritage and sharing untold stories through history and art. To check out their initiatives or become a volunteer, visit the Manchester Jewish Museum Website.