Tracing the Light, documentary and show

A show about wartime Jews in an encampment known as Terezin, Tracing the Light is a play written by Donna Blue Lachman. It's seen here accompanied by a documentary about Lachman's process in creating the work.

00:01Copy video clip URL Title cards introduce Chasing the Light, a play by Donna Blue Lachman, filmed here as part of a documentary by Rana Segal.

00:20Copy video clip URL The film opens on Friedl, played by Donna Blue Lachman, arranging various items into a bag. “Hitler has cordially invited me to Terezin.” Friedl then says that she is packing arts supplies to go to this place, which was a sort of holding place for the artistic elite being detained by the Nazis. While that may sound positive, the town was actually home to just as much death as was seen elsewhere within the Nazi regime.

01:46Copy video clip URL Friedl introduces herself as Frederica to a group of young people, saying that they were all there for the same reason: insanity. Lachman explains that the real Freidl, Friedl Brandeis, was a designer studied in the Bauhaus tradition and who was responsible for some excellent work.

02:45Copy video clip URL Friedl teaches the children to do wood tracing of the floor below their feet. She instructs them to draw whatever it was that they saw in their tracings.

04:10Copy video clip URL Lachman explains that in preparing for the show, she travelled to Prague and to Terezin. It was there that she encountered one of Friedl’s actual students, one of only a hundred or so of the fifteen thousand children who came through Terezin.

05:45Copy video clip URL In interviews, the children who played characters in the play explain how it impacted their view and understanding of the holocaust and the history surrounding it.

07:40Copy video clip URL In clips from the show, one of the child character delivers a stirring portrayal of a German Jew—Rudy—who did not believe he belonged in Terezin. Lachman explains that this was quite common at the time. She then moves to explaining another of the characters she wrote for the play, this one an animated and enthralling young child.

10:00Copy video clip URL “A lot of the younger kids didn’t really see all of the hell around there,” Lachman says about Terezin. Lachman says that much of that is attributable to Friedl.

11:01Copy video clip URL Lachman then says that it was the playwright in her which lead her to kill off several children quite early in the play.

12:18Copy video clip URL Lachman then discusses one child who arrives at Terezin so traumatized that she cannot even speak when she arrives.

13:12Copy video clip URL Lachman then discusses Petka, based on Peter Ginz. The child who plays Petka then speaks about the lullaby which he plays on the violin in the play.

14:33Copy video clip URL In a scene from the play, Friedl interrogates Marika and gets her to admit that she’s being arrested and removed from Terezin.

15:27Copy video clip URL Lachman then turns the discussion to the character Helena and how her parents left her when they fled to Palestine. She speaks about the common occurrence of parents doing this, with the hope that the children would rejoin them later. The SS, however, would block those children from traveling to Palestine.

16:13Copy video clip URL After a quick excerpt from one scene, the actress behind the character Helena speaks about the development which she sees Helena go through during the play.

16:50Copy video clip URL The character Eva is next in the discussion, and Lachman speaks about a particular scene—“eating radishes”—and how it to helped her understand the character.

18:05Copy video clip URL The actor behind Eva also speaks about her character.

18:13Copy video clip URL Friedl delivers a brief monologue to the audience and then speaks about the Golem of Prague, saying that the children should deliver a play about the golem. In the play, it’s this play-within-a-play that drives the “mysterious Red Cross” away from Terezin.

19:52Copy video clip URL Lachman explains that the Red Cross had a chance to truly expose what was happening in Terezin, and that their negligence allowed the SS to wipe out most of the people living in Terezin before the war ended.

20:58Copy video clip URL The actor who played Petka speaks about a moment when the gravity of what happened to the real children really struck him.

21:28Copy video clip URL In another scene, the children challenge Friedl to explain why she has volunteered to take a transport along with all of them; she says that she just wants to go with them.

22:17Copy video clip URL Lachman explains that a big motivation of hers in writing the play was to illustrate the healing powers of art and love.

22:28Copy video clip URL In a dimly-lit scene, Friedl speaks about the power of a small amount of light in illuminating a large space. She asks the children to sign and date their drawings: October 6th, 1944. The lights then fade entirely.

23:33Copy video clip URL Lights rise to Lachman onstage, playing Friedl as the play “Tracing the Light,” begins. She talks about having to leave Vienna during WWII. She says that when she arrives to Terezin, she wants to teach art to the children there.

26:00Copy video clip URL Stage goes dark, and then is lit by blue light. A group of children greet a young boy, Rudy, that has just arrived. They try to comfort him, but he doesn’t want to speak with them. He expresses anger about being kicked out of his home, and not being respected as a German citizen. The other kids remind him that he’s Jewish. He continues to lament that he doesn’t belong there.

29:45Copy video clip URL Friedl, from the first scene, arrives and introduces herself as Fredericka. She hands out art supplies to the kids. She shows them how to make a rubbing of the wooden floor. She gives them some exercises for imagining images in the grain of the wood, and asks them all their names. She collects their drawings and leaves. Stage goes dark.

36:50Copy video clip URL Lights appear on kids sitting at tables and drawing. Friedl walks between them and asks one child about her drawing. The girl is reluctant to talk about the drawing. The girl eventually says that the drawing is of a mother next to her dead daughter. Friedl talks to her about the stories that art can tell. The girl says she can’t draw pictures of her family because she is angry with her parents, who left her in Germany when they went to Palestine. Friedl speaks with her about the difficulty of the world they’re living in.

42:10Copy video clip URL A new girl arrives. Friedl greets her, but she stays silent, clutching an instrument. Another child comes in and says that her brother was arrested for stealing a lemon. She describes what happened and how her brother got caught. Friedl tells everyone to calm down, and they all leave to get ready for bed. Friedl looks at the drawings and talks to herself about the difficulty of the situation they are living in. She speaks about her own art and how it has helped her. Stage goes dark.

49:40Copy video clip URL A flashlight comes onstage. The person with the flashlight wakes some of the children and leads them out of the room. Dark stage. Friedl comes onstage with new art supplies, and doesn’t realize at first that some of the kids are gone. As she notices the missing kids, another child tells her what happened. She gathers the remaining kids and they look out the window together. She says that they all need to feel free to cry. They talk about the kids they miss. One of the kids asks why Hitler is so angry with them, and she says it’s because he’s a terrible artist. One of the kids receive a package, and they all open it together. Friedl says it’s too late to start drawing, and sends the kids to bed. Stage goes dark. 

1:01:00Copy video clip URL Instead of sleeping, some of the kids start talking about Friedl. One girl says that it’s weird that she talks when no one else is there. She says that she feels bad for Friedl, because she doesn’t have any children, and she must be sad sometimes too. Two other kids start arguing, when the Rudy returns to talking about how he doesn’t belong there. Rudy says that Friedl’s teaching is illegal, and threatens to report it. The other kids go back to bed.

1:06:42Copy video clip URL In the morning, the kids talk about their laundry. One girl’s underwear is stolen. The girl who arrived with her violin takes it out and plays for the kids. Another child who also plays joins her. Some other kids make soup from dandelion greens and wild onions. They talk about their favorite meals from back home. Friedl arrives and says she’s going to make a birthday cake for one of the kids. All the children wonder how. The kids eat the soup. One girl refuses to eat, and tells Friedl that she and her family are going to be taken from the camp. She leaves, and promises that she’ll see them again. Stage goes dark.

1:18:04Copy video clip URL End of Act I. 

1:18:10Copy video clip URL Camera opens on Friedl holding a puppet. She talks about the Red Cross coming to the camps, and how the Nazi government is putting on a front of fair treatment for Jewish people for them. She talks about the ridiculousness of their efforts. She says she has to put on a marionette show for the inspectors. Stage goes dark. 

1:20:48Copy video clip URL Lights rise on some of the kids eating. One girl says she traded her bread for a drawing she liked. The kids berate her for giving away her food. Rudy takes the drawing, and says it’s illegal. She takes it back. Friedl comes in and asks to see the drawing. Rudy says she should tear it up. Friedl talks about how they have very little freedom, but that they can choose how they conduct themselves. One of the girls is sick, and the kids worry for her. She says that she took radishes from the children’s garden and had to eat all the food to avoid being caught with it. Stage goes dark. 

1:30:21Copy video clip URL Open on marionette show. They tell the Jewish story of the Golem, sometimes slipping up and saying something that betrays the true nature of the camp. They bow after the show and then clean up. Friedl greets some of the people who watched the show, but they leave quickly. She says she can’t believe that the inspectors of from the Red Cross were fooled, and wonders what will be remembered of them after the war. She decides to save all of the children’s art. 

1:43:53Copy video clip URL Another boy receives notice that he has been called to leave the camp. He talks about how he painted during the Red Cross visit, and accidentally revealed the art they’d been making in class to one of the inspectors, and that’s why he’s been chosen to leave. The kids say goodbye to him. He gives away his violin bow. One of the kids gives him a drawing to take with him. Stage goes dark and he leaves. One of the girls looks out the window and talks to the moon. The kids hear a violin playing, and think of the boy who just left. Stage goes dark. 

1:52:22Copy video clip URL Flashlights appear again. Friedl walks in and there are pink slips all over the floor, indicating that they will all be leaving the camp. The kids pack. Friedl looks at all the art hanging on the walls. She says they will leave the art for people to find later. Friedl says she volunteered to leave the camp with them so they could all be together. They gather to make one more drawing. Friedl talks about Rembrandt while they draw. The train comes and they leave. Stage goes dark.

1:58:04Copy video clip URL End of Act II

1:58:30Copy video clip URL They come onstage and bow. Applause. 

1:59:09Copy video clip URL Each actor introduces themselves and the character they played.

1:59:57Copy video clip URL Film fades to black.

2:00:04Copy video clip URL A title card reads: “Dedicated to Friedl and the Children of Terezin.” The credits play, crediting the same writer and director as at the beginning, as well as all of the musicians, actors, cameramen, editors, designers, and inspirations for the piece.



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