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‘Leopoldstadt’ cast members on honoring memory of Holocaust victims: ‘A story of humanity’

The Tom Stoppard play follows a Jewish family in Vienna over the first half of the 20th century.
/ Source: TODAY

Three cast members of the Broadway play “Leopoldstadt” are opening up about the show’s powerful resonance today.

The Tom Stoppard play, which opened on Broadway in October, tells the story of a Jewish family in Vienna over 50 years, beginning in 1899 and following the family as they reckon with the aftermath of World World II and the horrors of the Holocaust

Stoppard, 85, based the play on his own family's experiences before, during and after the war.

“We’re telling a story about not just Jews, but about humanity, and the forces that would tear that apart,” cast member David Krumholtz told Harry Smith on TODAY, in an interview airing on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

When the play begins at the end of the 19th century, the wealthy, fictional Viennese family at the heart of the story has no idea what they will face over the coming decades, something that resonated with cast member Jenna Augen.

“I just think the sense of safety at the beginning of the play is something we feel,” she said. “And I think that should make us think.”

"To honor the memory we’re trying to honor here ... I think it’s quite important," she said through tears.

While the play covers past events, cast member Brandon Uranowitz said the story also informs people’s modern experiences of anti-Semitism.

“My father — I was always so tuned in to how acutely he felt anti-Semitism,” he said. “Everywhere he went, there was someone that he sensed in his periphery ... just (thinking), ‘Jew.’ And now because of this play, I feel it.”

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, or stereotype, according to a January 2023 study by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Antisemitism Research

Knowledge of the Holocaust is also falling among younger generations

A 2020 survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that nearly two thirds of millennial and Gen Z respondents were not aware that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.

Eleven percent of survey respondents even said they believed that Jews had caused the Holocaust.

In light of these statistics, Uranowitz believes “Leopoldstadt” can play a vital role in educating people about this horrific period of history.

“There’s truly nothing else that I could imagine doing right now than doing this play,” he said. “And what’s been fascinating to me is that people with red eyes and wet cheeks that I see outside the theater are, yes, family of survivors, survivors themselves, Jews. 

“But more than that, it’s non-Jews who say, ‘I had no idea,’” he continued. “‘I had no idea.’ And it just proves to me how vital this story is right now.”

Looking out onto the audience each night, Uranowitz sees a kind of unity. “There’s people packing this audience every single night to cheer alongside us to stand and be counted in the fight against racism, antisemitism and prejudice," he says.

He added he believes the play brings the tragedy home on a human level.

"The takeaway from this play is that, yes, there was tragedy. Yes, there was the ultimate horror," he said. "What makes it tragic, what makes it horrific, is that these were people with lives, with meaning, with relationships and with love."