Not Even The Dogs: a new play shedding new light on the Warsaw Ghetto

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Not Even The Dogs: a new play shedding new light on the Warsaw Ghetto

Two playwrights fascinated by the Oyneg Shabes decide to put the story on the stage

The cast in rehearsals
The cast in rehearsals

Archivist Isaac Schipper wrote in 1943 that “everything depends on who transmits our testament to future generations” and that if the Jews did not take responsibility for writing their own history, “not even a dog will howl for us”.

Not Even the Dogs at The Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington, is a new play by Josh Baumring-Gledhill and Josh Myers. In their telling of the story of Emanuel Ringelblum’s creation of the Oyneg Shabes, they attempt to challenge traditional Holocaust narratives by celebrating how the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto endeavoured to live rather than focusing on how they died.

Ringelblum was an historian, political activist and humanitarian prominent in Jewish self-aid efforts. Disgusted by the mistreatment of the Jewish population and terrified by what their fate might be, he decided to commit himself to telling the Ghetto’s story in the words of its citizens, forming the Oyneg Shabes group, which dedicated itself to documenting and archiving the true, lived experience of Jewish Ghetto life through poetry, music and stories.

Myers explains that their play “recognises the tragedy of how the people died, but the focus of our play is to celebrate how they lived.”

“It is a story that is about the power of the human spirit. It’s about Jewish love, Jewish kindness and a celebration, in particular, of Yiddish Ashkenazi Jewish culture of the early 20th century,” adds Baumring-Gledhill.

The idea for the play was first conceived in 2019 when Myers’ parents saw seen an exhibition in Poland about people who had buried various materials in milk churns under the Warsaw Ghetto and this led Josh to do some more research. Both playwrights were so fascinated by the Oyneg Shabes (which translates as Joy of the Sabbath) that they decided their story needed to be told on the stage.

While initially conceived as testimony to be used to prosecute the Nazis after the war, the archive later focused more on survival in a slightly more metaphorical, epic sense. Myers says regarding the archivists’ efforts: “Look, we’re probably going to die, we recognise that, and so this archive, these things we’ve been collecting, are now becoming the last will and testament of a 5,000-year-old people. Ringelblum knew that if the Germans were to win the war, they would most likely either wipe the Jews out of history and pretend they never existed, or paint their destruction as something beautiful.”

Interestingly the word Nazi is not mentioned in the play. Nazis are only ever referred to as “the others”; that’s how they are to Ringelblum, and indeed how they were described in his Ghetto journal – a nameless force.

The cast is made up of six Jewish actors, all but one playing multiple roles. They all play real people with real stories and any scene that is not within the archive comes from extensive historical research based on conversations that were thought likely to have taken place.

Together with producers Lew Forman and Ella McQueen, Myers and Baumring-Gledhill, who will also be directing, are keen to take the show to areas where there is not a big Jewish population and use it as an educational tool to improve nationwide knowledge of the Holocaust and Jewish culture.

Click here to read a review of Not Even the Dogs

Not Even the Dogs is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre 16-20 January 2024

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