MIAMI – The true story of a Jewish couple who died in the Holocaust after they were unable to obtain a visa to travel from Czechoslovakia to the United States has inspired an exhibit and play that its director says has special relevance in the era of new US President Donald Trump, who has moved to restrict the admission of refugees and other immigrants.
Paul and Hedwig Strnad were rounded up by the German invading army after they had unsuccessfully tried to emigrate with the help of a relative in the US.
In the letter to his cousin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Paul included some sketches of Hedwig’s dress designs, examples of her work that they hoped would show proof of their ability to financially sustain themselves in the US.
The couple’s story shows the impact of government policy on people and is especially important at a time when the US wants to close the door to immigrants, Michael Yawney, director of the play “A Stitch in Time,” told EFE.
He was referring to executive orders signed this week by Trump, including one that subjects migrants from several mainly Muslim countries to “extreme vetting” to prevent terrorists from entering the US and another that assigns federal funds for the construction of a wall on the border separating the US and Mexico.
The order affecting Muslim immigrants includes a temporary ban on all refugees from war-torn Syria.
The one-act play, whose main characters are played by Syrian-born Irene Adjan and Ricky J. Martinez, of Cuban and Russian origin, is part of the “Stitching History from the Holocaust” exhibition.
Martinez, who plays Paul Strnad, said he was impressed by the current relevance of the story that inspired the play, which was written by Susan Westfall and will debut on Sunday at the Jewish Museum of Florida.
“What I want is for those who come to see ‘A Stitch in Time’ to understand that if we start with a wall on the border with Mexico, we can end up with another barrier in the Caribbean and on and on,” said the actor, writer, director and choreographer, recipient of the Margo Jones Award in 2016.
The centerpieces of the exhibit, on display at the Jewish Museum of Florida until March 19, are eight dresses based on the sketches of Hedwig’s designs.
Those sketches were later discovered by the Strnad family in Milwaukee in 1997 and now belong to the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.
The colorful designs belie the fears of the childless couple, which Paul Strnad expressed in the letter dated Dec. 11, 1939.
“You may imagine that we have a great interest of leaving Europe as soon as possible,” he wrote.