Published on: Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It was virtually impossible to hold back the tears during Janice Hamer and Mary Azrael’s Lost Childhood, an opera that played to a packed house at the Music Center at Strathmore, for one day only, on Nov. 9.

The opera is set in 1939, during the invasion of Poland in WWII. We see the family together dancing the tango, we hear the radio playing in the background. They are close-knit, and the audience bonds with this father, mother, sister and the central character, a handsome, precocious 9-year old boy named Julek. They are Jewish.

Suddenly, the orchestra music changes, there are radio reports about impending danger. The mood is ominous. We learn the Germans are invading, soon thereafter Julek’s father is taken – murdered by Nazis.

The plot then revolves around survival. Clever tactics are strategized in an effort to hide what is precious, the lives of Julek and his now fractured family.

In a particularly ironic twist, the family hides among the very people who would like to harm them. Imagine for a minute, changing everything you are, what you believe, your folkways and norms to assume another culture -- just to be safe. That is exactly what happened. Julek, his mother, and sister pretend to be Catholic. Prayers are learned and crucifixes are carried. The ruse outwitted and outsmarted the Nazis.

Perhaps you’ve guessed by now, Lost Childhood is based on a true story. That story belongs to Holocaust survivor Yehuda Nir who wrote a memoir also titled Lost Childhood.

Some fifty years later, Julek, the character based on Nir, who becomes known as Judah, a psychiatrist in New York City (the opera is told using flashbacks,) has several dialogues with Manfred, a German colleague whose parents are Nazi sympathizers. Their discussions cause the floodgates of suppressed memories to escape, Judah is overwhelmed, and healing follows.

Lost Childhood is life changing not only for Yehuda Nir but perhaps for anyone who encounters this brilliant tale.Yehuda Nir’s memoir Lost Childhood, is available on Amazon. com

Tracey Gold Bennett, Special to The SentinelThe Sentinel Newspapers