Each piece in the show tells a self contained story which together make up the over arching narrative. They are collected into a book which comprises short stories, images, constructed diary extracts, timelines, short film scripts, letters and poems. You can read a sample story below…
The First Date
So now is the moment when their story begins in earnest. Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony plays on a wind up gramophone. Margaret Strom – 18 years old – drinks a bottle of vodka and doesn’t offer the young man, who provided such extraordinary riches, a single drop.
She had first been taken to meet him, this notorious stranger, by her cousin Irena. “Come. He has music and he has sausage. Can you imagine such a thing?” He fell for her that first night… she was unimpressed. Although she enjoyed the sausage and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to share in his private larder again, she would only do so in the company of her young cousin. He was determined to get her on her own. He set his mind to the task and what he wants he believes with absolutely certainty he can have – this never changes his whole life – and so it begins.
He invites, she declines; he cajoles, she resists, he pours his charm on her, she brushes it aside… but he has decided. At this moment she doesn’t yet know what this means – him setting his mind to something. She doesn’t know the strength of his determination, the boundaries of his will to succeed, the lengths to which he will go. She will learn all of these things. They will save her life, they will shape her life, they will blight her life. But for now she is an innocent and so… she plays with him, like the child which to all extents and purposes she still is. She issues the challenge:
“Joseph. I’ve told you. I’ll only spend the evening alone with you if you find me, a bottle of vodka, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and a place of our own.” I can hear the laughter in her voice at her own audacity.
Did she have an inkling? Did she already suspect this extraordinary man could produce extraordinary things in these extraordinary circumstances. I suspect she did. It is her little brother, Alik that brings her the note. “Be ready tomorrow at 8. I have all three”. It had been a fantasy, this challenge she had dropped at his feet so carelessly. She describes it as “Just my silly way of saying – No thank you”. Had she considered even for a moment that he may meet the challenge she would never have been so bold as to have issued it. But she is true to her word, always and irredeemably – this never changes her whole life – and she gave him her word, and so she is waiting the next evening at 8.
As she waits she hears the unmistakable strains of the Tchaikovsky symphony outside her window. And there, on the patch of ground beside the house is an old tent and it us from here that the music comes. She steps outside and makes her way to the tent. Inside is a beaming Joseph sitting beside a wind up gramophone and laid out on the floor of the tent is a feast which even in peace time would have been a delight; in the ghetto it was unimaginable. Sausage, bread, potatoes…Food, she tells me, never tasted so good …before or since.
She doesn’t share the vodka. Why? Because she fears that if he gets drunk he may get frisky and so the only solution? “To drink it all myself of course”. When he reaches out to take the bottle she snatches it away from him. “No.” She tells him. “ I asked that you should get a bottle of vodka for ME. If you want to drink you should also have got a bottle of vodka for yourself!”
The courtship was swift. For his part he was certain that this was the woman he wanted to be his wife. He had already started to plan the escape into hiding and he wanted Margaret to go with him, as his wife. It was his favourite joke: that he gave her two options, marry him and go into hiding, or stay in the ghetto and resign herself to almost certain death. “She chose me, but it was not an easy choice and she was never sure that she made the right decision” followed by gales of laughter and a puff of cigar smoke. It was a joke, but like all the best jokes it had a kernel of truth. For her part she was very uncertain that she was ready to marry anyone, let alone Joseph.
But Joseph was even then a salesman extraordinaire and he brought all his salesmanship (not to mention his unerring cunning) to bear, not with Margaret, but in a place where it had much more weight – with her Mother. Of course Margaret didn’t want to leave her Mother alone in the ghetto, but her Mother would not hear of her staying on her behalf. “What use will it be to me if you stay and perish alongside me in the ghetto. If you get out then there is a chance you will be able to help me.” Her youngest child Alik was already outside the ghetto in the relative safety of a Lithuanian family, and she had one more child to save. She would not rest until Margaret had agreed to go.
She had one last reason not to marry him, it didn’t fit in with her plan. She had made a decision, that before she married she would have twelve lovers, an ambtious total in the 1930’s. Until then how would she know that a person was the right one to spend the rest of her life with because she would have nothing to compare them to. “Look you silly goose.” this came from her Mother, through tears of laughter. “Joseph will be your first husband, but that doesn’t mean he will be your last.” And so Margaret, this child of 18, left the ghetto behind with her first husband, who as fate would have it, would in fact also be her last.
They married quickly and quietly in early October, unwilling to draw more attention to themselves than necessary, in a civil ceremony in the offices of the ghetto administration. No wedding breakfast, no dancing and the honeymoon destination… the box.