The title references the joyful Yiddish saying common to Jews in appreciation of their new status as equal citizens in post-Revolutionary France. In May 1940, Jews seeking refuge in France were arrested. Many were deported to internment camps in the south-west. This drama focuses on the largest of these camps, Gurs. The action focuses on three who were incarcerated as ‘Undesirables’. Thirty-four-year-old, political writer, Hannah Arendt, sixteen-year-old schoolgirl Eva Daube and twenty-four-year-old painter, Charlotte Salomon. The play is set during the chaotic days between armistice and occupation. Characters must decide whether to stay, and hope for liberation, or escape in to a dangerous unknown countryside
HANNAH To the audience.
We German Jews, we can adapt. Leave us four weeks in France and we speak perfect French. We know which are the best restaurants, cafes where to meet a friend, see a show, take in an art gallery. But who are we? Are we citizens? Are we enemy aliens? Are we Frau Nobody? And are we afraid of death? No! We are not! And when those friends turn on the gas or take a long, hot bath with a razor blade, we know why. But what is a Jew? And why should she die? A Jew does not exist, you might say, because there is no God and Jews who do not believe are not Jews at all. And God knows that most of us German Jews do not believe. Therefore, perhaps we are not Jews. Therefore, perhaps we will survive. How can we, with a ‘J’ in our passport? The suicide rate for German Jews is rising. Should we outwit them by killing ourselves first? Suicide – the last human freedom. But then we do their Jew-killing for them. And what about our houses, our jobs, our loves? Why must we lose everything because we are Jews? Crouch like an ant in a cupboard? Bury myself in a graveyard. Live in a sewer with the drek and the rats? No! We German Jews, we want to be Herr-Frau Doktor. Herr-Frau Schnorrer! Hand outstretched for a few coins. Like a dachshund who tells everyone, ‘Once I was a St Bernard.’ Yap-yap-yap-yap! We must adapt. We must forget we are Jews. Madame Cohen who leaves Germany in 1933. She goes to Prague and suddenly she is no longer a German. She is a Czech patriot. And when this proud Czech is expelled by the Czechs because of who she is, she goes to Austria and in Vienna she becomes a proud Austrian. She even learns to yodel!
Sounds of steam trains
Burgh House 26 January 2023
Written and Directed by Julia Pascal
with cast: Gisellle Wolf, Leah Gayer, Laura Wohlwend, Ella Fidler, Fiz Marcus
Sound Design by Flick Isaac-Chilton
A hidden story of women’s imprisonment, for the crime of being exiled Jews was witnessed by over 80 people last night. My play As Happy As God In France, an epic about 8,000 arrestees, was performed by five women on a handkerchief-sized playing space at Burgh House. The audience wanted to talk about the shock of this 1940 history and the voices of the unknown, the unheard and the unseen. Last night they were seen and honoured.
Supported by the Cockayne Foundation, The London Community Foundation and The Chadwick Trust
“Intense with moments of delightful humour which added to the humanity of the play.”
“I found the event to be powerful, jarring, and heartbreaking.”
“Woo! Need time to process. Thank you for bringing this info to the theatre.”
“I also was very moved by the material that you brought up, that doesn’t normally get put into literature, or even just straight record keeping. So, to hear the women talking about rape in the family, and by that gendarme and the various other incidents, really was incredibly moving. So, thank you so much. It touched on so many issues that don’t normally get out.”
Julia: The story came to me through a cousin of mine. So, my mother’s sister married a German Jew. And I’m married to a Frenchman. And he said to me, “My grandmother and my aunt were in France from the war in Gurs. And I said, “What’s Gurs?” And from that conversation, I started to research it and went to Gurs and went to the archives ……and then I researched more and found that Hannah Arendt had been in Gurs and had written about it. Charlotte Salomon either was or wasn’t in Gurs, nobody really knows because the fire happens; the commander set fire to all the documents. When we went to Gurs … the archivist said, “Everyone’s coming to ask was Charlotte Salomon in Gurs? We don’t know because the archives were burned.” But Hannah Arendt did write about it. So, we do know that and I do know that Eva Dalby and her mother, Cecile Dalby, were in Gurs, … and Eva did have the relationship with a commander and did try and get her mother into the camp so she could look after her. So, everything that you heard comes from research and is authentic. But if you have questions, it’s an unknown story in France. When I tried to research it in our towns in Paris, I was told “The arrests that happened in the Vélodrome were in 1942.” But I said, “Actually, it happened in 1940.” There was great reluctance to admit it. .. ..it happened under the French regime before the Nazis were in power. So, there’s a kind of discord of information generally, which is why I was very keen to get the play on its feet. And I’m keen to give it a future life because it really is a history that has been buried for obvious reasons. It’s such a shameful history, and the huts were constructed for the Spanish Republicans who were fleeing Franco, so all that area of mess and horror comes from the early Spanish story and then later these German exiles, mostly Jews are put into these huts.
I invented Trude Gottlieb. I wanted to create a marginalized character who may or may not be Jewish but gets lost and then floats around and ends up there…
She also represents the women who didn’t leave. So, if you carry this story on, not everybody left, because where would you go and you had no money and you might get killed. And, and there was a kind of safety. This is not Auschwitz. This is an internment camp and it’s run by French gendarmes. And we can’t, we can’t say that they were all anti Semites, they were doing a job and some were communists. And it was ramshackle. It wasn’t a German, orderly Nazi camp. But a lot of people remained in the camp. And later when the Nazis did come in, were shipped off to Auschwitz. Not actually 1940. Much later. So, there’s a whole other story after this of Germans who were left in there. And again, it’s not that chronicled. There are people who were the children of those inmates, or who did manage to get out. There’s more in the German archives; there’s very little in the French, but I only wanted to take the story to the escape.