Nobel Laureate’s autobiographical play presented in Ithaca

Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann’s autobiographical play, based on his experiences as a Holocaust survivor in Zloczow, Poland (now Ukraine), will be presented as a staged reading in Ithaca, directed by Beth F. Milles. “Something that Belongs to You” will be shown on Sunday, April 15 at 6pm at Ithaca College’s Clark Lounge, Campus Center, and on Tuesday, April 17 at 7pm at the Cherry Artspace on Ithaca’s West End. 

“’Something That Belongs to You’ is a multi-generational document of survival that commingles memory and the act of remembering with the complex entanglements of guilt and the path to forgiveness,” said Milles, associate professor of performing and media arts. “I’m honored to work with Roald: his work is personal and poetic (with a raw sense of the real), and in this time of commemoration his story becomes our own.”

The play tells the story of an 81-year-old holocaust survivor, Frieda Pressner, and her son Emile. The action is set in 1992 Philadelphia, with flashbacks to the attic in a Ukrainian village where Frieda hid from the Nazis with the then five-year-old Emile. Like many survivors, Frieda has refused to talk about the traumatic events she lived through. The adult Emile avoids emotional involvement and claims to have very few memories of those times. But the persistent questioning of Frieda’s granddaughter, and a surprise visit from a member of the Ukrainian family who hid them, upsets the fragile peace of this American family. 

“Is there something to learn from a personal story of survival more than 70 years old? Yes, for every day the news brings us terrible images of human cruelty to others, of refugees, of families and children desperately striving for survival,” said Hoffmann. “Yet, in the midst of that suffering there is humanity, one person reaching out to another, despite risk to them and their families. The gods stand by; it is human beings who make choices for good and for evil. The play is my story, but it is also for all of us.”

Hoffmann, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus, received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He is also an accomplished poet; his collections include “The Metamict State,” “Gaps and Verges” and “Soliton.” His plays include “Oxygen,” co-authored with Carl Djerassi, and "Should’ve."

The readings are scheduled for the conclusion of this year’s Days of Remembrance, the week established by Congress as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Attendance is free, but donations will be collected at the door for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which works in 70 countries to alleviate hunger and hardship and rescue Jews in danger, as well as providing high-impact disaster relief and long-term development assistance worldwide.

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