During World War II, a young Jewish girl managed to document her survival and endurance through the travails of wartime Germany. Across five years and seven Nazi labor camps, Sala Garncarz Kirschner wrote over 350 hidden letters and kept them hidden. Sala kept hiding those letters for over 50 years. Finally, when she was 67 years old, she revealed her painful history to her grown daughters.
The play Letters to Sala retells this true story with powerful drama and pathos. In October, Sala’s remarkable real-life tale comes to a South Sound stage for the first time as part of Olympia High School’s theater season.
Olympia High School drama instructor and theater director Kathy Dorgan says, “I heard about this play from one of my colleagues in the Juilliard Directing Fellowship program and kind of tucked it away in my mind as something to look at sometime. The defacing of Temple Beth Hatfiloh (in 2015) is the thing that brought it to my attention again. And I knew I had to do it. The story is true, the characters are or were real people and Sala Kirschner is, in fact, still alive at 92 and living in New York.
“As a teacher, I think it’s so important for kids to see historical events as things that happened, not only to millions of faceless people, but to individuals. It’s sort of like taking Black Lives Matter to Every Individual Black Life Matters, if that makes sense.”
Letters to Sala draws from the emotional journeys that began for both Ann and Sala when the letters resurface. Through scholarly research, Ann discovered her mother had made a historically significant impact on Holocaust documentation. In real life, Sala’s story became Sala’s Gift, a book written by her daughter Ann Kirschner, followed by Arlene Hutton’s play version Letters to Sala.
In the stage version of this story, three generations of Kirschner women must work together to sift through the past and come to terms with the true gravity of Sala’s letters. Ann processes her own reaction to her mother’s story while her daughters, Caroline and Elisabeth, realize for the first time the weight of their Jewish heritage. On stage, a youthful Sala relives her younger days, recalling her naïve desire for adventure, the disillusionment of her life in the work camps and her loss of communication with the outside world as the war progressed around her.
In the Olympia production of Letters to Sala, Sala will be played by Emily Charles as older Sala, and Kate Hayes, who will play the younger Sala.
The Olympia high school version will be scored with original music composed and performed by Stephen Hein, a senior at Olympia High School. Hein is an advanced theater student who has been studying the script and Eastern European music for many months.
Olympia senior Rachel Hodes will connect the production with Olympia congregation Temple Beth Hatfiloh. Hodes states she is honored to be included as a liaison with the Jewish community in Olympia.
Letters to Sala is “a moving story about Jewish rebellion and Jewish survival in a history where Jews are often portrayed as the victims,” says Hodes. “I think it’s an incredibly important play to be putting on in a high school.”
The New York Public Library is providing a photo CD of letters and photographs from their Sala exhibit for use in the OHS production. Photos and translations of Sala’s letters are also available for viewing on the New York Public Library website through the Sala Garncarz Kirschner Collection on the NYPL’s Online Exhibition Archive.
What: Letters to Sala
Where: Mainstage Production, Olympia High School,
1302 North St., Olympia
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct 21 / Thursday, Oct 27 / Friday, Oct 28 / Saturday, Oct 29
/ 1:30 pm Saturday, Oct 22
How much: $5 (students) / $8 (general admission)
Learn more: 360-596-7000 | OHS Ticketing