Dramaturg’s Recommendations: Eight Nights

Playwrights know the background of the characters in their plays; after all, they write them. They often do significant historical research to understand the world they create in their plays. The creative team working on a particular show — directors, designers, actors and dramaturgs — must do even more research, to ensure they understand the playwright’s intention in addition to the historical context. Many audience members find their curiosity sparked after seeing a show, which can lead to them conducting their own research to learn more about historical personalities or events. If you are one of those people, start your search here! Eight Nights dramaturg Ryan McRee shares several of the books he referenced when researching the show. There is so much history covered in Eight Nights, but these four books are a great place to begin if you are interested in learning more.
1. Voyage of the Damned: A Shocking True Story of Hope, Betrayal, and Nazi Terror, by Gordon Thomas 

In May 1939, the SS St. Louis set sail from Hamburg carrying 937 German Jews seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. Unknown to the captain, the ship was merely a pawn of Nazi propaganda. Among the crew were members of the dreaded Gestapo, and the steward himself was on a mission for the SS. Made into an Academy Award–winning film in 1976, Voyage of the Damned is the gripping, day-by-day account of how those refugees on board the liner struggled to survive.

2. Approaching an Auschwitz Survivor: Holocaust Testimony and Its Transformations, edited by Jürgen Matthäus

Among sources on the Holocaust, survivor testimonies are the least replaceable and most complex, reflecting both the personality of the narrator and the conditions and perceptions prevailing at the time of narration. Scholars, despite their aim to challenge memory and fill its gaps, often use testimonies uncritically or selectively, mining them to support generalizations. This book represents a departure, bringing Holocaust experts Atina Grossmann, Konrad Kwiet, Wendy Lower, Jürgen Matthäus, and Nechama Tec together to analyze the testimony of one Holocaust survivor. Born in Bratislava at the end of World War I, Helen “Zippi” Spitzer Tichauer was sent to Auschwitz in 1942. One of the few early arrivals to survive the camp and the death marches, she met her future husband in a DP camp, and they moved to New York in the 1960s. Beginning in 1946, Zippi devoted many hours to talking with a small group of scholars about her life. Her wide-ranging interviews are uniquely suited to raise questions on the meaning and use of survivor testimony. What do we know today about the workings of a death camp? How willing are we to learn from the experiences of a survivor, and how much is our perception preconditioned by standardized images? What are the mechanisms, aims, and pitfalls of storytelling? Can survivor testimonies be understood properly without guidance from those who experienced the events? This book’s new, multifaceted approach toward Zippi’s unique story combined with the authors’ analysis of key aspects of Holocaust memory, its forms and its functions, makes it a rewarding and fascinating read.

3.  I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944, by Hana Volavkova

A selection of children’s poems and drawings reflecting their surroundings in Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia from 1942 to 1944.

4. The Jungle, by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson

Okot wants nothing more than to get to the UK. Beth wants nothing more than to help him. Join the hopeful, resilient residents of ‘The Jungle’, the refugees and volunteers from around the globe who gather at the Afghan Café. They’re just across the Channel, right on our doorstep.

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