Shilynn Simas, 12, recites her lines during dress rehearsal for “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway on Friday. Simas is a sixth grade student at Agnes Gray School in West Paris. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Max Davis, 10, recites his lines during dress rehearsal Friday for “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway. Davis is a fifth grade student at Oxford Hills Elementary School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Sage Hoyt, 12, recites her lines during dress rehearsal Friday for “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway. Hoyt is a seventh grade student at Oxford Hills Middle School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Cast members rehearse Friday for the play “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Sterling Paul, 7, rehearses his lines for “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway on Friday. Paul is a first-grader at the school. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Kailee Nelson, 10, recites her lines during dress rehearsal for “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway on Friday. Nelson is a fourth-grader at the school. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Scarlett Paul, 10, recites her lines during dress rehearsal for “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway on Friday. Paul is a fourth-grader at the school. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Cast members rehearse Friday for the play “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

NORWAY — After a recent rehearsal for the play “Under a Yellow Star” at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway, Sarah Dailey, one of four adults in a cast full of over 20 children, said she’s had to answer some hard questions.

Dailey, Teen Service Coordinator at the Norway Public Library, has some experience talking to kids about heavy subjects. Dailey was brought in part to help answer questions about the grim realities of the Holocaust.

“The second night, as we were going through and asked if they had any questions, one of the kids said, ‘what’s a crematorium.’ She (the director) looked at me and was like ‘this is why you’re here.'”

The original play is a compilation of stories from actual children in the Holocaust, sourced from diaries and historical documents from the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Yad Vasham — Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust — and many other sources. Every word uttered in the play is from a victim of the Holocaust.

“Under a Yellow Star” debuted in 2001 and toured for two years, with actors traveling from school to school in Southern Maine and New Hampshire. This iteration of the show is an Oxford Hills School District sponsored event, and is also being sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council. The other adults involved in the production are Christina Sugars, Bob Mahn and Joanne McDonald.

The cast, which has been rehearsing since November, apart from learning their lines, is required to read books on the Holocaust and learn facts from accredited sources. After each show, the cast will host a question-and-answer segment with the audience, discussing the Holocaust and connecting it to present-day issues.

Lily Davis, a second-grader at Oxford Elementary School said education is what the entire production is about. She plays Krystyna Chiger, a young girl who lived in the sewers of Lviv, a Ukrainian city, with her mother, father and little brother for 14 months during World War II.

“This play is for peer education, which teaches people to connect what’s happening now to back when the Holocaust is happening,” Davis said.

And there are quite a few parallels — from modern events like the Rohingya Muslim persecution in Myanmar to bullying seen in public discourse and in schools — according to organizers.

“Even though the Holocaust ended a long time ago, there’s still a lot of discrimination going on in the world today. There’s a lot of misinformed people, a lot of people that don’t understand that people are who they are, and they can’t change anything about that, because that’s who they are,” said Mia Johanson, a freshman at Telstar High School in Bethel who plays Janina, a Holocaust victim who resided in an all-female concentration camp.

But the actors in the show have also learned about the terrors of the Holocaust in their classes. According to Johanson, she learned about World War II in school and discussed the Holocaust, but never took a deep dive into the subject. Hearing the stories of real children who lived at the time was illuminating, she said.

“It’s strange, hearing of all of these things that happened to these people,” she said. “These are real people, and these are real experiences. It’s really interesting to hear what actually happened and what they felt about it, instead of just learning from a textbook.”

The process of getting the actors to understand the Holocaust was aided by speakers who came to rehearsals.

Norway resident Zizi Vlaun was one such presenter. Her father was a Hitler Youth, an organization formed by then-German Chancellor Adolf Hitler to educate and train youths with the principles of the Nazi party, with the intention of eventually sending them to war.

Vlaun’s father was indoctrinated with Hitler’s ideology, but later, after searching his conscious, reconsidered what he had been taught. He tried to make amends after moving to the United States after the war, she said.

Another speaker, Marcel Polak, lost most of his family during the Holocaust.

“At first, they didn’t realize how connected this was to their lives and it seemed pretty far removed,” Dailey said. “As we started going through the play, explaining the parts of the play, and how things like this happen, and people came to talk to us, they started to see how many similarities that were going on today in their own schools and families, and in the bigger communities in the world.”

And for Rhyann Holden, a seventh grade home-schooled actor, common sense and empathy for others are powerful tools.

“It was discrimination and stereotyping … there’s still genocide going on and people should just use common sense. Hitler said, ‘oh, I hate the Jews for so and so reasons,’  and he got followers. In truth, if his followers would have watched and looked and gathered information for themselves, they would have seen that Jews aren’t bad. People need to use common sense today,” Holden said.

Learning about the Holocaust is also a way to make sure it never happens again, Dailey said.

“Never been in a play before, but it is fun,” said Kennedy Wilson, a second grader at Paris  Elementary. “It’s really cool, but it’s a little bit sad.”

Holden Gray, a fourth grader at Oxford Elementary, said he knew about the Holocaust before the play. His mom is the librarian at the school, and did a unit on it. However, he said the play taught him a lot.
“I learned a lot of different things about what happened during the holocaust…this really told me a lot more about the holocaust. They’re telling their stories, they’re reading from their diaries. It’s really something to remember and know that it happened,” said Gray.
Max Davis, a fifth grader from Oxford Elementary, said that the purpose of the play was to bring contemporary issues like bullying into the same lens as the Holocaust.
“Most of the purpose of the play is trying to teach people that this stuff happens. We’re trying to compare and contrast this to bullying. I hope this really does teach people…I hope it teaches them a lesson, so if they’re a bully for example, they say ‘I shouldn’t be a bully, because I know how this person felt.  I should go ask them if they’re ok,’ said Davis.
Sage Hoyt, a 7th Grader at Oxford Middle School, agreed.
“It brings awareness to the problem of bullying and judging,” said Hoyt.

“The current climate, you could almost see this happening again, which is horrifying,” Dailey said. “The kids have been so good about getting that, and just connecting it to things they are experiencing.”

Steven McCann is a sixth-grader at Guy E. Rowe Elementary in Norway. His character, Abraham Lipser, jumps off a train headed for the Auschwitz concentration camp and ends up living in a hole with a board on top of it. He said he learned a lot about the Holocaust acting in the play, and hopes the audience will too.

“If they don’t know what has already happened, then they won’t prevent it if it happens again. I hope they (the audience) learn it was a really awful time, and what people went through,” said McCann.

The show was set to run on April 3 and 4, but has been postponed because of the spread of the coronavirus in Maine. Anyone wishing to attend should look for updates in the list of cancellations and postponements being printed in the Advertiser Democrat and online at advertiserdemocrat.com.

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