The Tin Ring is a story that has moved many to tears and it is likely to do so again this week in the Czech Republic.
Jane Arnfield, actress and arts academic at Northumbria University, is to stage her one-woman play about Holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlova in Terezín, the Czech town where thousands died in a concentration camp (called Theresienstadt by the Germans) during the Second World War.
Zdenka, a Jew from former Czechoslovakia, grew up with a love of music, learning to play the piano and being taken to concerts and the theatre.
In 1942, aged 18, she was transported to Terezín where her boyfriend, Arno, gave her the tin ring that would, many years later, provide the title for her moving memoir.
In The Tin Ring she relates matter-of-factly the horrors she had to endure – in Terezín, Auschwitz and finally Bergen-Belsen.
Many times she came close to death but she survived the war, being plucked to safety from among the dead and dying by an unknown British solider after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. She never saw Arno again.
Jane Arnfield, reader in arts at Northumbria, adapted The Tin Ring into a stage show with the help of director Mike Alfreds.
Since its 2012 premiere, it has been performed to acclaim around the world, including at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil, where Zdenka was in the audiuence and afterwards signed copies of her book.
On Friday, May 15 Jane will perform The Tin Ring in Terezín on the 70th anniversary of the city’s wartime liberation – although Zdenka, now in her 90s, will not be in the audience this time.
The performance has been organised as part of this year’s Rafael Schächter Institute for Arts & Humanities, an annual event which was founded in 2011 under the auspices of The Defiant Requiem Foundation, set up to honour the memory of Terezín prisoners who found hope and inspiration in the arts amid suffering and depravity.
The insitute is named after a young Jewish conductor who countered evil by organising a choir of fellow prisoners to perform Verdi’s Requiem.
The Terezín performance will launch a two-year programme of events called Suitcase of Survival which is being developed by Northumbria University and County Durham arts organisation The Forge, which works with young people and families across the region.
The programme will include a large-scale performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Durham Cathedral, the creation of a new musical composition to be performed by young people and the screening of a film called The Defiant Requiem, along with academic research and an educational programme.
Jane, who is director of fine and visual arts programmes at Northumbria, said: “It is both humbling and enriching to be performing and developing my research on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Terezin.”
Of the play, she said: “This is Zdenka’s story, Zdenka’s truth. The resonance of Zdenka’s story with a contemporary audience provides another vehicle in which to remember the very best of what it is to be human and the very worst.”
Tony Harrington, executive director of The Forge, said: “This is just the beginning and over the next two years we want to involve as many people as possible in the Suitcase of Survival programme.
“I am very excited at the prospect of this partnership and the great things that we can achieve together.
“The Forge exists to make great art and to use it as a tool for reflection and learning. The arts are a central part of what makes us human and this was never better exemplified than by the powerful art that was created in Terezín.”