Seventy years ago, thousands of children were saved from the horror of the Holocaust by being evacuated to Britain in the Kindertransport. It was a humane initiative in the face of Germany's oppression of the Jews, but its hidden legacy was the trauma experienced by these children suddenly separated from their parents.
Diane Samuels explores this in her 1992 play, being revived at the Hampstead. Evelyn, sending her child off to university in the 1980s, was once Eva, a frightened girl put on a train from Hamburg by her parents in 1938. Now, her memories awakened, Evelyn struggles to deal with the betrayal, denial and guilt she has suppressed since the Kindertransport saved her.
Samuels sees in the Kindertransport a manifestation of the eternal theme of children being separated from their parents. "It's a universal piece," she says. "We all separate from our parents, we will all separate from our children, and the play tackles that. There's not one human being alive who doesn't go through that experience."
This was illustrated to Samuels in her role as writer-in-residence at Grafton School in Islington. Her class used the Kindertransport as a basis for writing and acting, and the children, who were from a variety of cultures, were strongly affected: "It took them beyond their own experience but they really related to it, how they would feel if they left their parents."
There is no simple emotional solution in such cases, says Samuels, because "the mother sends her child away to be safe, but if you asked the children they would rather stay and die with their parents." This is just one strand of what Evelyn has to deal with.
When Samuels wrote Kindertransport, her own children were young. Now, she understands Evelyn's emotions well. "I'd sit in an audition watching actors doing this scene," she says, "and I went home and did the same for my son [sending him away]. I've cried all through rehearsals."
24 April to 26 May (www. hampsteadtheatre.com; 020-7722 9301)Reuse content