When “Der Nes in Geto”—“A Miracle in the Warsaw Ghetto”—was produced in 1944, the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto had hardly cooled. The play, which commemorates the courage of the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, was first presented in New York in October 1944, while the war against the Jews raged on.
For four weeks, the Ghetto fighters fought the Nazis. Information on which the play is based was conveyed to author H. Leivick mostly by the Polish Underground; very little was known at that time about what had happened behind the Ghetto walls. The author, who had escaped Siberian exile and arrived in America in 1913, was a prolific writer, producing dramas and many articles about Jewish life for newspapers and journals.
“Der Nes in Geto” was produced by the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene on April 19, 2017, in a concert reading at the Museum of Jewish History—a Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The date marked the 74th anniversary of the uprising. The play is a portrayal of the courage and resolve of a small group of survivors determined to decide their own fate.
Some 400,000 Jews had been forced into the Ghetto of Warsaw. Three years later, illness and starvation, deportations and killings, left only about 37,000 alive.
When it was realized that the Germans planned to liquidate the entire population, Jews revolted for the first time in that war. They faced the unlimited power of the Nazi war machine with handguns and “Molotov cocktails.” The final results were no surprise; the amount of effort and time the Nazis needed to defeat this poorly armed band was.
The concert reading was emotional, full-bodied and engrossing. The play was produced in the original Yiddish; a bilingual English and Russian “crawl” ran behind the performers. One could feel a mother’s anguish, understand a young man’s fear, and be impressed by the courage of the fighters and their Polish compatriots who ferried guns and potatoes to those who remained alive. The love of Yisrael was tender and deeply sad. There were few dry eyes in the audience as the cast sang the “Partisan’s Song.”
A few Jews managed to escape the Ghetto. Some joined bands of partisans hiding in the woods. The Bielski brothers and almost a thousand survived for several years, fighting the Germans from behind their own lines.
The National Yiddish Theater recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Established in 1915, it was the first “socially minded” production company. It served the language and cultural needs of an immigrant population—both of artists and audiences. Its productions explored life in “The Goldeneth Medina”—the Golden Land. It currently produces both traditional and new productions, playing in front of more than 100,000 patrons annually.