Based on a notebook the actress kept, Acting in Terezín is translated from the Czech by Vava's cousin, Helen Epstein, author of Children of the Holocaust and Where She Came From. It features seven extraordinary theater posters from the Terezín Memorial's collection.
Acting in Terezín is excerpted from Vlasta Schönová's memoir Chtěla jsem být herečkou (I Wanted to be An Actress), published in Prague in 1993. A Hebrew edition was published in Israel in 1991 as Lehiyot Sachkanit (To Be an Actress) and translated into English by Michelle Fram Cohen (Hamilton Books, 2010). Both books describe Vava's life before the war in Prague, and after the war in Israel.
"A powerful, original narrative, pungently translated, that reveals the vulnerability of women during the Holocaust and shows the reader a broad cast of characters – from rescuers with moral convictions to those who sexually abused their charges." – Eva Fogelman, Ph. D., author of Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust
"I saw Schönová perform Cocteau in Terezín in 1943. Today I see the play as a piece of kitsch. Then, I was mesmerized by her performance. I was 18 years old and for an hour or so I was lifted out of the camp environment to somewhere in Paris... free." –Lily Reiser, MSW and Terezín survivor
"As an artist, what I find most powerful in this memoir is how Vava transformed impossibly hopeless experience into something not only livable but meaningful through theater." – Rochelle Rubinstein
About the author
Vlasta Schönová (1919-2001) or Vava was the third of four daughters of Solomon and Magdalena Schön. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she became an actress and began her career just before the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. For a while, she was able to continue acting by passing as a non-Jew. After she and her family were deported to Terezín, she performed, directed and wrote plays as a prisoner.
Theater was her passion since childhood, she writes. It invested her life with meaning and kept her alive, even in the Theresienstadt Ghetto where she was one of the only artists who was not eventually transported east for extermination. After liberation by the Soviet Army in 1945, Vava returned to Prague and resumed her career in Czech theater. After the Communist coup of 1948, she fled Czechoslovakia and settled in Israel. There she lived and worked in many different venues as the Israeli actress Nava Shean.
Born in Prague in 1947, Helen Epstein grew up in New York City, where she graduated from Hunter College High School in 1965. She studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and became a journalist after the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia of 1968 when her personal account was published in the Jerusalem Post. She became a university correspondent for that newspaper while still an undergraduate. Subsequently, she studied at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and began freelancing for diverse publications including the New York Times.
Her profiles of legendary musicians such as Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Bernstein and Yo-Yo Ma are collected in Music Talks that, like Children of the Holocaust and Where She Came From, has been translated into several other languages. She herself is the translator of Heda Kovály's Under A Cruel Star and Vlasta Schönová's Acting in Terezín. Her biographies of Joseph Papp and Tina Packer grew out of her journalistic work. She has an active speaking career and has lectured at a wide variety of venues in Europe, and North and South America. She blogs for The Arts Fuse, a New England cultural web site.