Last week, in the small German city of Neumarkt, the curtain went up on an improbable musical about the life and death of a young Jewish woman who was deported and killed by the Nazis.
The production was unlikely in part because of the Broadway format chosen for a Holocaust tale. But more than this, the production was unusual because the town of Neumarkt has made little prior recognition of its Jews, a community that vanished during the Holocaust.
The subject of the musical, Ilse Haas, had two brothers who survived the war and made it to America, but neither was contacted or given recognition by anyone from Neumarkt. Even more egregiously, in history books about the town — written by the city’s long-reigning mayor — the presence of Jews had been noticeably excised.
The first time that Haas’s brothers received so much as a phone call from Neumarkt was three years ago, when a few high school girls began researching the life of the men’s sister as part of a religion class. That research culminated in this musical, “The Last Letter,” which opened to a sold-out crowd in the municipal auditorium last Friday. More performances are scheduled for this weekend.
Ernest Haas, who was a year younger than Ilse, was moved by the production and grew close with the Catholic teacher who made it happen. But he never received any correspondence from the town officials, and so he declined to travel to Neumarkt to see the show.
“It would have been nice to receive a welcome, saying, ‘We will make a dinner for you in your honor,’ or saying, ‘We threw you out, but it was a big mistake,’” said Ernest, 81, who survived the