In the Sydney Jewish Museum there’s a pre-World War II photo of a clarinettist in a band, taken on the Greek island of Rhodes. Stories of the Jews of Rhodes are less common in Sydney, whose Jewish community largely descends from refugees of northern Europe.
Yet the hub of classical civilisation once had a strong, vibrant community of 4000 Jews – as the clarinettist’s son, author Vic Alhadeff, pointed out, and was even known as “Little Jerusalem… before 1938”.
The Jews of Rhodes would be deported in July 1944, one of the last communities to be destroyed in the Shoah. As Alhadeff explained, today, approximately five Jewish families remain.
The true story of Salvatore, the clarinettist from Rhodes, and his fiancée Becky, is now being brought to life by theatre producer Moira Blumenthal.
Blumenthal is presenting live, dramatised readings of Torn Apart by War, a new play by Alhadeff based on the lives of the couple, who lost contact with each other in the war and had assumed that the other had been killed.
Torn Apart by War covers the fallout of the lost love as well as real-life twists that would take place decades later.
Although Alhadeff is the author of two history books, and as a journalist and former AJN editor has written thousands of pieces, he admits the play proved challenging to write.
“It’s a completely different discipline, right? For the simple but profound reason that … you are inserting yourself into the shoes of the protagonist,” he said. “So, I’m not just writing about my father as a third person.”
Alhadeff credits Blumenthal, as well as Rob Selzer, a psychiatrist and playwright, who he describes as a “wonderful human being”, along with dramaturg Sandie Eldridge, with the help needed to bring the story to the stage.
Alhadeff was driven to write the play to “promote awareness of the Holocaust … specifically how the Holocaust impacted the Jews in Greece”.
But there was a more personal aspect as well. When Alhadeff was three years old, growing up in Zimbabwe, his parents divorced and Salvatore moved to Zaire.
“I only saw my father once every three years. I never had the opportunity to know my father well,” said Alhadeff.
It’s a factor that made going into his father’s personal story, what Alhadeff describes as an emotional experience.
“My hope is that it will honour him and his story, and indeed, the countless other stories … from this chapter in history.”
The whole event, titled Letters from a Troubled Past in 2 Acts, will be a double bill as Torn Apart by War plays alongside Letters of Loss and Refuge, another work based on found letters. It tells the story, discovered in a trunk of letters in a home garage, of refugee Rudolf Schwab and his unlikely friendship with Karl, a war-wounded Nazi.