Human Rights Advocate "Not Surprised" By Hate Over Holocaust Play

Mar 17, 2018

FALMOUTH, Maine - Human rights advocates in Maine say no one should be too surprised that a play at the Falmouth Footlights Theatre has garnered a number of hateful calls for its subject matter. 

APPELL: The Other Side of the Fence, a play by Anne Drakopolous, details the lives of prisoners awaiting roll call at a concentration camp.

Theatre director Michael J. Tobin told the Portland Press Herald on Friday that since the start of the play earlier this month, he'd received at least 11 calls ranging from Holocaust denial to profanity laden objections to the Jewish subject matter.

"You shouldn't be surprised," says Liz Helitzer, Executive Director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. "Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia-those aren't new hatreds. But it feels like right now they are hatreds that are no longer being condemned unilaterally in a way that they had been."

The play portrays a number of people, including real life Holocaust survivors Kurt and Sonja Messerschmidt, who endured concentration camps in Czechoslovakia and Poland, including the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau, before coming to Maine. 

Helitzer says President Donald Trump, who has made multiple derisive remarks about Muslims, Mexicans, and immigrants- and ran on a strong nationalist platform- is fueling the noxious atmosphere. She says the negative responses to the play are  especially ironic because genocides all over the world start in just this way.

"It's important to remember that the Holocaust, as the play at the Footlights Theatre portrays, was the end result, but it wasn't the beginning." says Helitzer. Rather, she says, it's the separation, dismissal, and "otherization" of people, whether immigrants, Jews, Muslims, or refugees, that leads to policies such as Adolph Hitler's so-called Final Solution.

"That's actually the start of genocide, these seemingly innocuous things, comments, insults, dehumanization, dismissal. Every genocide that's ever occurred has started with these episodes of exclusion." says Helitzer.

Theater director Michael Tobin acknowledged the issue Saturday on Facebook, writing "Yeah. This has been going on but the outpouring of support has been amazing. Not the kind of publicity I wanted or expected, but, the public needs to know- hate still exists."

The play runs through March 24.