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Bucks actress plays key role in moving Holocaust story from page to stage


In many ways, Ruth Kapp Hartz's life is an open book.

And that book — "Your Name Is Renée" — is now opening up in another medium, as the basis for a theatrical musical, "Hidden."

Hartz's heartfelt 1994 memoir of menace and misery, mistaken identity and, ultimately, meanderings through the figurative and literal landmines of the Holocaust that Hartz survived as a Jewish child hidden in Nazi-occupied France, is now the basis for a musical which will have its world premiere as a staged concert reading at the Josephine Muller Auditorium of the Abington Friends School in Montgomery County.

"Hidden" is penned by accomplished composers/writers David and Jenny Heitler-Klevans, of Cheltenham; performances are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday — ( Robin Rosenberg is directing.

"I just finished reading the book again; it is even more personal to me now," says Linda Glazerman Roeder, of Feasterville.

There is a reason for that: Actress/singer Roeder is one of the musical talents helping to move the memoir from page to stage as she assumes the role of the older Ruth; Sydney Zimney portrays Ruth as a young girl.

Roeder has learned quite a bit about theater and performance after spending decades playing life to the musical hilt in community theater. But just as important were the pupils Roeder had over a 35-year career in the Cheltenham School District, where she taught English and directed musical theater productions.

The retired teacher has had quite an education, too, in her own Jewish roots, since taking on the role of Ruth, who had her name changed to Renée to hide her true identity from the occupying Nazis. (After the war, Hartz went on to graduate from the Sorbonne as a biochemistry major and immigrated to the United States 65 years ago, settling in Jenkintown, where she currently resides.)

"Hidden" has helped open Roeder’s eyes, "bringing me back to my core," says the actress of the musical muse, in part re-introducing her to Judaism as an important element in her life after a period in which "she stepped away" while married (since divorced) to a non-Jew.

Hartz's heroic efforts at survival are a lesson themselves as well. "She is a testament to endurance, resilience," notes Roeder. "She was obviously shaped but not destroyed by her childhood experiences."

The musical mines the stunning stories with Roeder, as Ruth, telling her onstage grandchildren a tale of two situations — under siege before going undercover as Renée in a Catholic orphanage; overjoyed but never completely over the experience she survived.

There are parallels to another young Holocaust heroine's frightening face-off with restricted freedom in her own hidden space, documented in the globally famous “Diary of Anne Frank.”

But in a way, Anne Frank's life carried on with her posthumously published journal. And, somehow, the spirit chimes on in other notable ways. On one of two visits to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Roeder reacted to a significant reminder of Frank's essence existing everywhere. "I was there, looking at the actual diary when the bells (from the Westertoren clock) of Westerkirk Church started chiming," which Roeder found "chilling," since those bells were a familiar welcoming refrain for Anne Frank herself. Trapped in an annex near the church, Anne took note of it in her diary on July 11, 1942: "Father and mother can't get used to the chiming of Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start."

The visit left Roeder feeling "a kinship" to Anne Frank.

Certainly she feels a heart-to-heart connection with Hartz, whom she first met at a workshop production of "Hidden."

It is pride and purpose which propels Roeder through the performance, "I feel a huge responsibility to honor her," relates Roeder of her part in the production, which also offers a substantive salute to the Righteous Gentiles, who hid and rescued Jews from the Germans and their French cohorts.

Roeder takes a look around the world and sees historic hates zig-zagging their way back into the modern zeitgeist: "Antisemitism is still surging in the world," she says with sadness in her voice.

With the help of her fiance — multiple Emmy Award winner and eminent Hollywood musician/soundman Roy Braverman, Roeder is pursuing what she calls a second act in life: Under the stage name of Lindarella Raye, Roeder relates, she is stepping up to the brave new world of being a recording artist, with guidance from Braverman, whose Jewishness, she adds, has also helped re-connect her to her religion.

For the record, as much as her career is spinning in wonderful new directions, Roeder's experience as a teacher still etches an important part of her current career. She stresses how the revelations of "Hidden" help history remain relevant, reminding people that "Never Again!" is not just a slogan, but a meaningful command close to 80 years after the Holocaust.

"It is important to keep saying it; it is important that people keep it in the forefront of their minds. It is important to keep showing information," to illustrate how the horrors of hate tip their hats to ignorance of the past, and how the goosesteps of the Gestapo echo yet, dimmer perhaps, but serving as a loud alarm for those alert to historically inexplicable twists and turns.

"We must continue to teach" about the Holocaust, says Roeder firmly.

She catches herself, pleasantly surprised at how her own past has seeped into her statement. But then, avers the astute academic/actor with ardor, "ever the educator."

Michael Elkin is a playwright, theater critic and novelist who lives in Abington. He writes occasional columns about theater.

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