Kirschner lived through seven different labor camps over the course of five years. She survived, and had a family after the war, but never talked about her years there. Then, in 1991 when she was facing triple bypass surgery, Kirschner decided it was time to share her story, and she presented her daughter with all the letters she had received during that five-year period.
Sala's daughter, Ann Kirschner, had all of the letters translated and deciphered, as there was "a lot of code happening," says Lindsey Cacich, the play's director. Eventually, Kirschner wrote a memoir for her mother, called Sala's Gift, which was then turned into a play by Arlene Hutton.
Since Sala was in work camps rather than death camps, there were lighter regulations. Sala received mail the entire time she was imprisoned. Although she was supposed to destroy the letters, she kept all of them hidden.
The letters were from her family and friends from back home, as well as friends she had met at camp. There was even a couple of love relationships, and there was mentions in some of the letters of historical figures. Ala Gertner, one friend who wrote to Sala, acted as a kind of guardian throughout the war, and was named as part of a rebellious group at Auschwitz that blew up a crematorium and were eventually hanged.
Cacich says a number of cast members and people involved in the production are Jewish, so it's been an emotional journey for everyone, and has included sharing stories and reflections. There are also a number of survivors who are membesr of JCC, she says, so that adds an additional call for taking great care with the piece.
The play is structured as "a montage of letters," says Cacich, and jumps between two time periods: one where the older Sala is presenting letters to her family, and the other during the war. Rather than a naturalistic portrayal, the production incorporates movement and environmental sounds "to capture the spirit of what it felt like to be there," she says.
Letters to Sala
March 22 through April 6
7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
Additional pay-what-you-can performances are 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 24 and 12:30 p.m. Friday, March 28
Click here for tickets or email [email protected] or call 952-381-3499.