Small-Scale Death Camp: Holocaust Portrayed Through Puppetry


Susan Feldman has been to Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. But when the artistic director of St. Ann’s Warehouse traveled to the small Dutch city of Leeuwarden, she saw the concentration camps again — in miniature.

There, the theater group Hotel Modern was performing “Kamp,” an installation using thousands of three-inch tall, handcrafted puppets to re-enact life — and death — in Auschwitz.

“They’re manipulating little, tiny puppets to do terrible things, like put little bodies into crematoria ovens, take bodies and put them on wheelbarrows,” she said. “It’s kind of shocking.”

The live performers — who seem gigantic in comparison to the tiny figures — also use handheld miniature cameras to project the activity onto a screen while sound is amplified to create what Feldman calls a “hyper-realistic” atmosphere.

Now, at Feldman’s invitation, “Kamp” is coming to Great Small Works’ Ninth Annual International Toy Theater Festival, to be held at St. Ann’s in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn (June 2-5, 38 Water St., The piece has personal resonance for Hotel Modern member Pauline Kalker, whose grandfather died in Auschwitz.

Feldman said the performers also told her about their sometimes eerie process — such as trying to figure out how to get large numbers of puppets into the space for the “morning call.”

“At moments, they felt like they were Germans,” she said.

This is not the first time the Holocaust has been portrayed through puppetry. “Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz” opened in New York in 2008, telling the story of the real-life Moritz Rabinowitz, who went from operating a successful business in Norway to dying in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.

That show, presented by the New York-based Wakka Wakka Productions, was the heartbreaking story of one man. “Kamp” — with its sea of puppets in striped camp uniforms, all with skull-like faces — is about anonymity.

“You’re not engaged in the story — you’re getting engaged in a phenomenon,” Feldman said.

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