The Garden by Estelle Muspratt at Old Parliament House, Canberra 2000
King's Hall in Old Parliament House has echoed to many a political intrigue in the past, but rarely to such an affecting moment as when students from Narrabundah College sang In This Heart by Sinead O'Connor to conclude The Garden, a 50 minute play about the children taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto 1941 - 1945.
Some 140,000 Jews were transported to this holding camp near Prague which the German SS falsely represented as a 'model Jewish settlement': most inmates were sent on to their deaths in places like Auschwitz, while 33,500 died in Theresienstadt. Of 10,500 children under 15, only a few hundred survived.
In A Glance and a Kiss, one inmate, Jiri Pribramsky, wrote:
So I might forget
The meadows between woods
and the purple heather
And everything else that
used to move me.
It's an awful irony that Within the Walls, the exhibition of the history of the Theresienstadt Ghetto, brought to Old Parliament House from the Sydney Jewish Museum, is so moving to us looking back after nearly 60 years.
Estelle Muspratt, a young Canberra actor, director and writer, created The Garden - a brief image of life in the ghetto of death - through workshops with the Narrabundah drama students, whose ownership is measured by the final script being directed by a student: Anna Nekvapil. Muspratt had considered a range of possible themes, and was struck by the parallels between the false picture of the Jewish ghetto presented by the German government and the placement of Aboriginal people in missions during the same period of history in this country. However, though she writes "I am not Jewish and I cannot even begin to tell this story with a whole element of truth", she felt even less that she had any right, being non-indigenous, to attempt to tell the Australian story.
In the end her play represents an indictment of all oppression, especially in the story of the special performance in the ghetto for the International Red Cross, to deceive the world about conditions there: all the performers, including the children in the choir, were killed. One of Muspratt's characters, realising it was "all a lie" cries out "Forgive us God, for we know not what we do!" Yet as Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel wrote to the President of the Sydney Jewish Museum from Prague on December 10, 1998 - the 50th Anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights - "[The Theresienstadt story]is not merely a history of suffering and oppression, but a testimony of human strength."
Within the Walls continues until July 30, including The Garden and painting workshops for children till Wednesday this week; a series of public lectures through May and June; Brundibar in late May, a children's opera originally performed in Theresienstadt in 1943; the Sydney Jewish Choral Society in mid-June; and the Emanuel Quintet in mid-July. Ring 6270 8222 for details and bookings.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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