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Monday, August 17, 2015


(Aviva Pelham)

Harrowing and emotional piece performed with great sensitivity and dignity. (Review by Keith Millar)

Gracing the stage for three performances only at the South African Woman’s Art Festival at the Playhouse in Durban was the beautifully crafted, one-woman show Santa’s Story.

Adapted from the memoirs of the 90 year-old Santa Pelham and sublimely performed by her daughter, opera diva Aviva Pelham, it is a deeply moving story about a woman’s bravery and resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Santa Edler was born in Germany in 1918. Her early life was idyllic. However, with the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism in 1933, she and her family, being Jewish, were subjected to harassment and violence. After her father was thrown in jail and beaten up, they escaped the tyranny of Germany by moving to Spain.

They soon found themselves in the middle of the Spanish civil war and were forced to escape again. As refugees of the war, they were able to move to France were they lived in poverty in Paris.

In order to escape increasing anti-Jewish sentiments in France, Santa agreed to travel to Salisbury in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to marry Jacques Pelham, a man she had never met before. Their first child died in its infancy, and then later she heard that her parents and brother had died in the gas chambers of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

This harrowing tale was adapted for stage by Aviva Pelham and Janice Honeyman – who is also the director of the production - from the original memoirs written by Gabi Sulcas.

Aviva Pelham displays great sensitivity, dignity and not a little emotion as she tells the story in a series of monologues which are interspersed with songs which highlight her beautiful and powerful voice. She shows her versatility singing songs in German, Yiddish, Spanish, French and English during the course of the production. Backing is provided by an excellent three piece Klezmer band made up of Mathew Reid, Petri Salonen and Nicky Jansen.

English translations of the songs along with many pictures from the family album as well as images of the various cities and houses were the family lived are projected on the big screen at the rear of the set.

Santa’s Story is a harrowing and emotional piece. By the end there were not many dry eyes, including the performers, in the house. However, it serves as a perfect reminder of the extraordinary bravery and resilience of not only Santa Pelham but also the many millions who were victims in one way or another of the Holocaust.

It is also a reminder that not much has changed and that man’s inhumanity to man and injustices such as discrimination, racism and xenophobia are still a blight on our world today. – Keith Millar