The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post 26 posts, one for each letter of the English alphabet, in April. Most of us choose to make these posts on a particular theme. My theme for 2023 is 1943 Washington D.C., the setting of the novel that I’m writing. Visit daily in April for a new post on my topic.
W is for “We Will Never Die”
“We Will Never Die” was the name of a pageant produced and performed by American Jews to raise awareness of the Holocaust — except that we weren’t calling it that, yet, in 1943.
The show was a response to the news from November 1942 that two million Jews had been massacred by the Nazis — news that Americans found difficult to believe.
Ben Hecht, the son of Belarusian Jewish immigrants, was a journalist and screenplay writer. He won the first Academy Award for Best Screenplay for Underworld (1927), the original gangster drama and went on to write one of the best of that genre, Scarface (1932). According to the article about the “We Will Never Die” pageant from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ben Hecht believed the news about the Jewish massacre “and was horrified by it.”
His response was to write the pageant “We Will Never Die.” The large cast told the story of Jews past and present.
Madison Square Garden in New York hosted the first performance on March 9, 1943. The crowd of people who wanted to see the show was larger than even Madison Square Garden could handle, so the cast did a second impromptu performance later in the evening. A total of 40,000 people saw it that night.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was present in the audience at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. when “We Will Never Die” was presented on April 12, 1943. She was joined by “seven Supreme Court justices, two Cabinet members, more than two hundred members of Congress, and diplomatic representatives of countries then under German occupation.”
As a special message to these powerful people, Ben Hecht added these lines to the text:
The challenge of war has called forth the righteous roar of our champions. The deeper and more powerful evil of massacre inspires no such outcry. On the field of battle soldiers die. On the field of massacre, civilization dies. We have come to the great and historic city of Washington to ask the question—what is our answer to this crime?
The final scene of “We Will Never Die” was an imagination of the peace conference at the end of the war haunted by the ghosts of the Jewish people who died crying “Remember Us.”
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum shares Eleanor Roosevelt’s response from her “My Day” column:
…one of the most impressive and moving pageants I have ever seen. No one who heard each group come forward and give the story of what had happened to it at the hands of a ruthless German military, will ever forget those haunting words: ‘Remember us.’
'The hard way' turns up A few unexpected aces: Preview screening reveals pleasant surprises; paul muni to head cast of memorial pageant; items of news and gossip of the theater. (1943, Mar 27). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/hard-way-turns-up-few-unexpected-aces/docview/151619878/se-2