GHHS students to depict Holocaust survivor’s life

Krystle Wagner • Apr 24, 2017 at 12:00 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — The spring theater production at Grand Haven High School is unlike any story they’ve previously told.

Through the production of “Letters to Sala,” students bring to light the lives and experiences of Sala Garncarz, her family and others who were forced into labor camps during the Holocaust.

The show runs April 27-29 at the school’s Performing Arts Center. Curtain times are at 7 all three nights. 

The show follows the life of Garncarz, who lived and worked in several labor camps. Garncarz volunteered to take the place of her older sister, Raizel, who was ill when the letter came requiring her to report for work.

Although she was ordered to report for six weeks, Garncarz worked in labor camps for almost five years. She saved more than 300 letters by hiding them under mattresses and in different places around the camps.

Garncarz later met and married an American soldier, and they moved to New York. Garncarz didn’t tell her children about her experience in the labor camps until years later.

Now, Garncarz’s letters are currently on display at the New York Public Library. Garncarz is still alive.

The production is relatively new, director Rita McLary said.

Throughout the show, Garncarz relives her memories, which play out on the stage as the older Garncarz role looks on.

GHHS junior Lizzie Hill, who plays the role of Garncarz when she’s older, said labor camps aren’t as often talked about, and “Letters to Sala” sheds light on them.

“All these stories deserve to be told,” she said.

Hill, 17, said her character talks about saving the letters so the people who died would be remembered. Hill, who said she is in “awe” of the “powerful” show, said she feels she has a duty to tell the story and help people understand what Garncarz experienced.

Sophomore Lareyna Plescher said it’s an honor to portray the younger Garncarz working in the camps. Plescher, 15, said she thinks the show will tug at people’s hearts, and she hopes the audiences learn to treat everyone with respect.

After reading the play, Plescher said it made her realize people can’t ignore what’s happening currently in the world and what has happened in the past.

Junior Andrew Barney portrays Harry Haubenstock, who was Garncarz’s boyfriend before they were separated in the camps. Having the opportunity to share these real stories is humbling and and yet empowering, said Barney, 17.

Being the student director and stage manager for “Letters to Sala” has provided junior Erik Livingston with a unique opportunity. The 17-year-old has been part of musicals and light-hearted productions — but this production, he said, is full of “raw emotion.”

When the cast first set out to rehearse, they shared any connection or knowledge they had about the Holocaust. Livingston said his family recently found out they had relatives who were Jewish and living in Hungary at that time, and some were sent to concentration camps.

Livingston has copies of letters written by distance relatives that detail what life what like during and after the war.

The American soldier, played by Kyle Nagy, wears McLary’s father’s uniform in the show.

Throughout the show, Nazi guards toss clothes into a pile. The red garments symbolize the lives lost during the Holocaust. McLary said that’s her director’s take for the show.

Kilian Jacobs, who plays a Nazi guard, said the scene in which the guards pick someone to kill is hard for him.

“It gets to me,” he said.

“Letters to Sala” has shifted Barney’s perspective on what he has in his life. He said people get caught up in what they feel their own lives are lacking, and they lose sight on what they do have.

Tickets cost $6 for students and senior citizens, and $8 for adults. They will be sold at the door.

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