My Name Is Truda Vitz will be one of the most fascinating plays to hit Sydney in 2014. The playwright, Olivia Satchell, both stars in and plays the cello in this one-woman show; however, it’s the story itself that makes the play so interesting. The plot centres around Satchell’s Jewish grandmother and her experiences escaping Austria during the Holocaust. Sadly, Satchell never actually met her grandmother, but she remained an inspiration throughout her life.
“Truda died two months before I was born and I grew up hearing stories about her from my dad,” says Satchell. “It reached a point where I thought I’d made up this story about her fleeing Vienna and arriving in England covered in contraband jewellery. It was only three or four years ago that I casually turned to Dad and asked, ‘That story isn’t true, right?’ And he replied, ‘Yeah, that happened.’ And I just flipped out because you make up stories as a kid and to suddenly realise that one was true, it really shook me.
“It was about three years ago where I suddenly realised that I should turn this into a play, especially since that’s my medium of choice. It’s just such an incredible story and because Truda never spoke about what happened to her I felt like I had to do what I could to try and let people know, because she hadn’t done so herself.”
Due to the fact Truda didn’t divulge a great deal about her wartime experiences, Satchell has had to take some liberties with the story. “It’s been a really bizarre process because my dad didn’t find out that he was Jewish until he was 17,” she says. “He came across Truda in the dining room not doing anything. He asked her if she was OK and she turned to him and told him that she was Jewish. He didn’t question her about it and she never spoke about it again, so I’ve based the play around what that conversation could have been.
“If Dad had asked her what she meant when she said that she was Jewish, would she have told him what happened to her? We just don’t know. So the play revolves around a series of hypothetical conversations. I’ve worked on the principle that the story that I’ve made up about what might have happened to Truda probably happened to someone, somewhere, because of the scale of the event. So many people were drastically affected by the Holocaust. Truda was one of the incredibly lucky ones, but her whole life was marked by it. Dad never really knew his mum because she could never talk to him about that very large side of her identity.”
Music is also a central focus of the play, especially because Satchell provides so much of it herself. “I use music in the show to try and get people to think about how we can get to know people through emotional truths. I was playing The Blue Danube waltzon my cello a little while ago and Dad walked past and said, ‘That was Truda’s favourite piece of music.’
“I really want people to think about how we can know people that we’ve never met,” adds Satchell. “This is the closest I’ll ever be to Truda, and I think there’s some hope in that because it’s also looking at the Truda in Dad and the Truda in myself.”