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The Nazis hated Piscator’s Marxism so much that even though he was Protestant, he was treated as if he were Jewish and forced to flee Germany in 1936. Piscator established a New York theatrical school where the teachers included Jewish refugees such as the Habima company’s Raikin Ben-Ari, who taught the young Malina, as she recalls, that the “stage is not a mirror but a magnifying glass, and that I could overcome my Jewish inhibition of making the sign of the cross on stage because, as an actor, ‘there is no facet of human nature alien to myself.’”
Although Malina shared her mother’s deep admiration for Piscator’s innovations, she did not agree with all of her mentor’s political views:
I did not share Piscator’s unqualified admiration for FDR. My father had been dedicated to the lifting of the [anti-Semitic U.S.] immigration quotas, which would have saved countless lives. But petitions and protests and appeals were to no avail. Roosevelt defended the legal limitations that prevented masses of Jews from escaping from their Nazi persecutors.
Though she stayed home from school for Passover and other High Holy Days, Malina was sometimes obliged to work on Shabbat. During a 1946 production of “Hannele,” Gerhardt Hauptmann’s play about a “young soul striving towards purity,” Malina reflected that she herself had been forced to choose “between the theatre and the shabbos. But since I had already made my decision for the theatre, the best I could do was light the shabbos lights in the dressing room, or in a hotel room, which I have managed to do all my life.”
Among other teachers were the eminent German Jewish architect and art historian Paul Zucker and stagecraft wizard Hans Sondheimer, a veteran of Berlin’s Jewish Culture League, who taught Malina “how to drive a three-penny nail through a half-inch plank in three strokes.” She was also influenced by her fellow students, including aspiring Jewish actors destined for film or TV careers, such as Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis (then known as Bernie Schwartz), Jerry Stiller and Bea Arthur (born Bernice Frankel).
Others she studied with were talented, but remained as devoted to theater as Malina. George Bartenieff was later celebrated for his marathon show “I Will Bear Witness,” adapted from Victor Klemperer’s 1933-1941 diary of Nazi oppression. Anna Berger, another classmate and mentor, starred in the 2009 Aviva Kempner documentary “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” as well as the 1950s TV series which it celebrates, and was recently still touring with her own one-woman show.