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Sunday, August 18, 4pm
at Congregation Shaare Emeth

Dramatic reading of letters serves as an artistic witness

Gerda Nothmann Luner was the only immediate member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Her parents, grandparents, sister and the Dutch foster family she lived with for a time were all exterminated by the Nazis in 1943, but miraculously their voices can still be heard today. Their letters and postcards, sent to Gerda and saved by a family friend, tell a heartbreaking yet moving story of the power of the human spirit that will be recreated in a dramatic reading, “Letters to Gerda: The Story of a Family Shattered by the Holocaust.” The reading will be presented by the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center at Congregation Shaare Emeth on Sunday, August 18 at 4 pm.

Staged by actor JoAn Segal, the dramatic reading is based on the book Gerda’s Story: Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor. Gerda, who died in 1999, wrote the memoir for her children, including Vera Emmons, who is a congregant at Congregation Shaare Emeth and a docent at the Holocaust Museum, after seeing a televised miniseries about the Holocaust in 1978. After Gerda’s death, her husband, Charles, published her story, including some of the letters written to Gerda by her family. The letters are a witness not only to what happened historically during the time, but also to a family’s separation caused by the war and their hopes of being reunited and living a happy life.

Segal, a family friend who speaks German, helped translate some of the letters. “One night after translating a particularly moving letter, I called and read it to Charles,” said Segal. “The drama of that letter was overwhelming. Charles said we have to do something dramatic with this.”

Segal put together the dramatized reading and has performed it several places. “Each time it is still incredibly wrenching,” says Segal. “When you try to think about 6 million people, it is a horrendous thing, but just one family’s story is a more effective way of understanding the horror.”

Emmons agrees. “When you look at the Holocaust through the eyes of one family, it makes it very intimate,” she says. She is proud her family’s personal story will be presented in her community. “It’s my duty to carry this on; my mother can’t do it anymore,” she says. “I’m lucky to have those letters, my father, who went through all the work to put together the book, and JoAn, an amazing woman who brings the letters to life.”

Light refreshments will be served after the reading. There is no charge to attend “Letters to Gerda,” but reservations are required. Contact Andrew Goldfeder at or 314-442-3711 to reserve a spot. “Letters to Gerda” is presented by the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in collaboration with Congregation Shaare Emeth, in partnership with Brodsky Jewish Community Library, Nishmah, Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School and Hadassah. It is graciously underwritten by the Regional Arts Commission, Harlene and Marvin Wool, and Hannah and Larry Langsam.