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Special Holocaust Remembrance discussion this Thursday at The Laboratory Theater

Program to follow performance of ‘Visiting Mr. Green’

April 13, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The Laboratory Theater of Florida will present a Holocaust Remembrance discussion after the Thursday, April 19, performance of "Visiting Mr. Green," at The Laboratory Theater of Florida. This show is sponsored by Ella Nayor and Jeffrey Cull.

Dr. Robert Hilliard, a concentration camp liberator; Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, spiritual leader at Bat Yam Temple of the Islands on Sanibel; Cesare Frustaci, a childhood Holocaust survivor; and Dr. Wolfgang Vogel, a former member of the Hitler Youth. The discussion will take place immediately following the performance, which will begin at 8 p.m.

Hilliard is a retired university professor, author and World War II liberator for which he is credited with saving thousands of Holocaust survivors. At the time, he was a U.S. Army private and wrote for a U.S. military newspaper in Germany. There were about 400 displaced prisoners of the Nazi Holocaust, survivors of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, in St. Ottilien, Germany. This displaced persons camp was little better than the concentration camps run by the Nazis, according to Hilliard's memoir, "Surviving the Americans: the Continued Struggle of the Jews After Liberation." Although there were no gas chambers, there was neglect and, in some cases, exploitation.

Hilliard and a fellow soldier, Edward Herman, decided to do something to help the survivors. They devised ways to get food and supplies from the community and their own mess hall and smuggle them to St. Ottilien. They started a letter-writing campaign in which they wrote letters, made many copies and sent them to family and friends. The campaign eventually caught President Harry Truman's attention and an investigation was launched. A news story came out in the New York Times on Sept. 30, 1945: "President Orders Eisenhower to End New Abuse of Jews Likens Our Treatment to that of the Nazis."

The Holocaust survivors got the help they needed.

Fuchs has been the spiritual leader at Bat Yam Temple of the Islands on Sanibel for over 40 years. In 2011 he was appointed president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. During that time, he spoke throughout the world about Reform Judaism and values. In 2015, Fuchs conducted the first Jewish service in the city of Friedrichstadt, Germany, since Kristallnacht. And in 2014, Fuchs became the first rabbi ever to give a sermon in The Michaelis-Kirche in Kaltenkirchen, the site of a former concentration camp. The rabbi is focused on Holocaust remembrance efforts as his father was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp.

During his religious leadership career and life, he has received numerous awards for his social activism and work including the Four Chaplains awards. He has authored several books including "What's in it for Me" and "Who Created God and Other Essays."

Frustaci was born in Napoli, Italy, to a Jewish mother who was a Hungarian ballerina and a Roman Catholic father who was a renowned orchestra director and music composer. Cesare was baptized and raised in the Catholic faith. But in 1938, the Italian government issued anti-Semitic laws and began expelling foreign Jews from the country. Two year-old Cesare and his mother returned to Hungary where they were forced to live inside a Yellow Star house within a Jewish ghetto. In an effort to save her son, Cesare's mother sent him out onto the streets with only a piece of bread and his baptismal certificate. She did not know if she would ever see her son again. While separated from his mother, Cesare became resourceful and devised clever ways to find food and shelter to survive. However, he was eventually captured and sent in a boxcar to a youth detention camp. During this time, his mother survived a death march and a series of concentration camps and they were eventually reunited.

Vogel was born in 1930 in Dresden, Germany. He grew up during the Third Reich and World War II. After the Dresden firebombing that claimed the lives of some of his friends in 1945, Vogel was drafted into the paramilitary. A captain told the boys to go home before they ever experienced military action, likely saving their lives. While Vogel is now a retired pharmacology professor, he was, as a child, a member of the Hitler Youth. Families such as his were left with little option but to put their children in the Hitler Youth program or risk danger to their families. He has spoken and conducted interviews with the hopes of helping people understand the dangers of propaganda and the need for education and understanding to not repeat history.

About "Visiting Mr. Green"

Having almost hit 86-year-old widower Mr. Green, Ross Gardiner is charged with reckless driving. He must now complete a form of community service and visit Mr. Green every week for the next six months. Though both men are quick to resent these forced visits, their conversations soon reveal family secrets and past hardships. It is a story of acceptance and open-mindedness, replete with charm and poignancy.

"Visiting Mr. Green" plays through April 29 at the Laboratory Theater of Florida at 1634 Woodford Avenue, in the Fort Myers River District. Tickets are available to purchase on or by calling the box office at 239-218-0481. For additional savings, guests may purchase a 2017-2018 Season Pass.

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