Parents’ ordeal inspires show about hope
Performer Naomi Miller of Monroe Township, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is bringing an original Shoa-themed program to the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County on Sunday, March 30.
The performance, “You Are the Future,” blends songs, stories, and visuals about the Holocaust.
Despite its theme, Miller said, the show — on which she collaborated with her husband Harvey, a Hackensack attorney — is not mired in sadness.
“There are tears,” she told NJJN, “but there also is laughter and understanding and hope. And there is a charge to future generations to ‘Never Forget.’”
The event marks Miller’s debut on the Freehold museum’s Hayloft Stage, but it is not the first time she will be presenting the work.
One memorable performance took place in 2008 at the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp near Prague in the Czech Republic. Miller also performed in Prague, at the 16th-century Jewish Town Hall.
She has also presented the program at synagogues, churches, schools, and community centers.
At one point in the program, Miller said, she portrays her mother, urging the audience to remember and keep singing the Yiddish songs that she and her siblings loved in their youth.
In addition to the Yiddish music, the program includes songs that were sung in the ghettoes and forests where the partisans fought. Miller also presents numbers based on the poetry of Inge Auerbacher, a child survivor of Theresienstadt, and three songs written especially for Miller by Emmy Award nominees Carole and Harvey Wechter. Larry Hochman, who won Tony Awards for his orchestrations on Spamalot and The Book of Mormon, provided many of the musical arrangements for the March 30 program. Miller will be accompanied by pianist David Schlossberg of Monroe Township and violinist Rob Lowe of Highland Park.
One of the Wechter songs, “Gentle Memories,” expresses Miller’s wish that she could have given her parents happier things to look back on than the imprisonment and deprivation they had to endure.
Even after the war, there were hardships. Miller told NJJN that she, the oldest of four children, was born in a displaced persons’ camp in Landsberg, Germany. “Our first home in the United States was on Houston Street in Manhattan. Then we moved to Paterson, where we lived above a mikva, which my parents maintained. My mother was the attendant, and my father the plumber and mechanic,” she said.
Both parents had some musical ability. “My mother sang in a choir in Europe, and my father was a habitual whistler,” she said.
“It wasn’t, however, until I was an adult and had a child of my own that either of my parents began to speak to me about their Holocaust experiences,” Miller said. “My mother lost seven siblings, and my father, who was older and married when he went into the camp, lost his first wife and two small children.”
One holdover from this harsh past, Miller remembered, is that when she, her brother, and two sisters were growing up they were never allowed to complain openly about anything. “Our parents always reminded us that our troubles paled in comparison to what they had lived through.”
Miller also was conscious that, unlike most of her friends, she had no extended family — no grandparents, aunts, or uncles. “That used to make me feel guilty. It wasn’t until later that I was able to recognize my parents as survivors and heroes. I now see them as providing inspiration to help me deal with the things that I have to deal with.”
One challenge was the deafness of her oldest child Philip, now 37, married and the father of two.
Miller said that as soon as their son’s condition was diagnosed, she and her husband determined that he should never feel isolated from them or his younger, hearing brother, Josh. As a result, they always used sign language to keep him apprised of what others were saying. When she sang, her husband signed the lyrics.
“Some people ask me how a deaf person can appreciate singing,” she said, “and I always tell them that they respond to it on the level of poetry.” More remarkable, she added, “Philip is a fine dancer. He feels the beat through vibrations in the floor.”