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July 8, 2022 11:09 am
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Musical About Jewish Teen Diarists Who Died in the Holocaust to Premiere at California Center for Arts

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A promotional clip for “Witnesses.” Photo: California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

The California Center for Arts, Escondido (CCAE), will later this month host the world premiere of a musical about five Jewish teenage diarists who were killed in the Holocaust.

In the 90-minute show “Witnesses,” which open on July 15, five songwriting teams will each focus on telling the story of one teen diarist and Holocaust victim, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Tony Award winner Robert L. Freedman incorporated lines from the diaries when writing the show’s script.

“Witnesses” is the first original musical produced by the theater company CCAE Theatricals, led by songwriter Jordan Beck and J. Scott Lapp. Beck created the concept for the musical, acquired the musical rights for the diaries and co-wrote some of the songs. Lapp is the show’s stage director. The team behind “Witnesses” also worked closely on the musical with a Jewish consultant and historian, as well as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.

One of the young diarists whose story will be told in the musical was 12-year-old David Rabinowitz, who lived in a village near Kielce, Poland. In August 1940, he wrote in his diary: “During the war, I’ve been studying by myself, at home. When I remember that I used to go to school, I feel like crying.” He was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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“Today, kids get so wrapped up with the little things and they feel like life is so tough,” Beck told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “In this show, the kids are dealing with the same stresses in life, like crushes, not getting good grades and getting into arguments with their siblings and parents. But then on top of that they’re being marginalized. What I found so inspiring was that up until the point they stopped writing, they were still holding on to hope.”

Also featured in the “Witnesses” are the diaries of Moshe Flinker from the Netherlands, who was 18 when he died in the Auschwitz concentration camp; Lithuanian teen Yitskhok Rudashevski, who was shot to death at the age of 15 in a Jewish ghetto in 1943; Romania-born Éva Heyman, who died in Auschwitz at age 13 in 1944; and Renia Spiegel of Poland, who was killed by a Nazi officer when she was 18 after her secret hiding place was discovered.

Lapp talked to  The San Diego Union-Tribune about the importance of still learning about the Holocaust and the events described in “Witnesses.”

“We have some real problems that have permeated into our society,” Lapp said. “We all know it and can’t pretend that we don’t. It’s called hate. It’s called bullying. It’s called intolerance. It’s called racism. It’s called antisemitism. Throughout the course of the show, the audience will be posed with a question: What will you do? It is these lessons that we should walk away from the theater thinking about. We are all witnesses.”

“Witnesses” will run at the California Center for Arts, Escondido, from July 15-July 30.

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