The Good and the True

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 3:19pm

I was born and brought up in a university town in the Czech Republic called Olomouc. It had a small Jewish community.   My father is a writer and academic.  Five years ago he interviewed Milos Dobry who was a prominent member of the Olomouc Jewish community and a long-term Holocaust survivor.  His story was fascinating - about how he and his brother had survived Terezín and Auschwitz and how Milos had gone on to have a successful career as an inventor and sports personality.  I went to meet Milos Dobry personally to further interview him about his history.  As part of that research I sourced the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive.  I was already starting to think about the creation of a play.   Milos was very excited to think that his story could be dramatized and was entirely co-operative.

Hana Pravda had been a professional actress at the Svandovo Theatre in Prague.  She had subsequently immigrated to England.  As the Artistic Director of this Theatre I wanted to learn more about her, not only her professional work but her survival story. Like Milos, she had also survived Terezín (Theresienstadt) and Auschwitz.  I went with my father and Lucie Kolouchova, my dramaturge, to London to meet Hana.  She was already 90 years old but entirely fluent and lively.  She had written a journal which had been published.  The journal had been written by her during her time of incarceration and was a moving and informative document.  She died in 2008 and I asked her son Professor Alex Pravda whether he might agree to have his mother's story dramatized.  He was happy to agree and suggested that his daughter, the professional actress Isobel Pravda, might audition to play the part of her grandmother should there ever be an English language version.  

The original production of the play in Czech was called Shoah.  Milos Dobry saw the play four times and Hana's family came to the press night at the theatre.  All loved the way in which the two stories are intertwined.  

The production was performed more than 100 times throughout the Czech Republic – not only in theatres but in public parks and also in Terezín.  It won the 'Audience Award' and performances were all sold out, proving that audiences want to hear these stories.

We then felt that the future the play would be in the English language.  We approached London-based Artistic Director Brian Daniels who came to Prague to see the play.  He was then commissioned to adapt the play into the English language.  We discussed whether the title should remain as Shoah but it was felt more appropriate to call it The Good and the True being a play on Milos's surname, Dobry (meaning Good) and Hana's surname, Pravda (meaning True).  

The play completed a successful UK tour with performances attended by the Israeli and Czech Ambassadors and Dame Rabbi Julia Neuberger in London.  The play was in theatres, cultural centers, synagogues, schools and even a prison. It is a universal story.

We believe that these stories are an integral part of the fabric of life.  Anyone who harbors any seed of discrimination – and who doesn't? – is shown where this can end.  It's a story of the human spirit and the measures people can go to when it's a question of life or death.

Without the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive we would have struggled to find the material to inspire the creation of this play.  It's not just the story of Milos and Hana but a universal story of survival against all odds.  It's a personal story for me too because my grandmother was the only member of her whole family to survive.  


Daniel Hrbek