Tom Stoppard

Why the story of the Holocaust still needs telling

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In Chekhov’s The Seagull Dr Dorn is asked which is his favourite foreign city. Genoa, he replies: in the evening the streets are full of strolling people and you became part of the crowd, body and soul. ‘You start to think there really might be a universal spirit,’ he says. I remembered Dr Dorn when I was discovering Genoa in October. Then it suddenly came to me that I had been to the city before. Genoa was where my family embarked for the Far East, when I was 18 months old, fleeing the Nazis.

I don’t know about the universal spirit, though. I’m reading Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017 by Ian Black. I had reached 1953 when at midnight a text pinged in from an old friend: ‘Who will cross the street when we pass? Who will hide us in the attic?’

Who, me? When did it come to this? I remember a hum about ‘anti-Semitism in the Labour party’ when I was writing my play about a Viennese Jewish family who perished in the Holocaust, but there was nothing ‘timely’ about Leopoldstadt when it opened in London nearly four years ago. Anti-Semitism was not a hot topic. When elderly Jews, often weeping, thanked me for ‘telling our story’, I felt a bit surprised that the story still needed telling. But they knew something I didn’t. By the time the play moved to New York in September 2022, anti-Semitism was the hook for every interviewer, and by the end of the run last July there were two extra security men patrolling the theatre.

Six months later and 3,000 miles nearer home, the security guard at shul advised my friend to hide her Star of David if she was going to the West End.

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