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Playwright and author Sandy Asher, formerly of Springfield, took the stories of Ilga Vise and created the one-woman play “Walking Toward America.” This weekend, there will be a dramatic reading of this play performed by former Springfield resident Annie Meek Montgomery. I recently sat down with the woman whose story is at the center of this production. Ilga Vise and her family fled their native country of Latvia toward the end of the Second World War as the Russian army was approaching. By the time she arrived in Germany, she was just 10 years old.
“We were put in a forced labor camp, along with Jewish people and a lot of other nationalities. It was only for a month, but it was a pretty traumatic experience, I must admit. So, when the Russian front was almost on top of us, the German guards ran away. We started walking west. It was January 13th, and we walked for the next two months, covered close to 500 miles over Poland and Germany to get close to the Danish border.”
Though her story is getting a lot of attention as the centerpiece of this play, Ilga notes that it reflects the stories of many other families who were displaced because of the war.
“My family was not an exception. We were the lucky ones. We made it. We stayed together and didn’t get separated. At a recent presentation of this play in the Catskills, a number of Latvians showed up for the performance. One lady cried and said, ‘It’s exactly my story.’”
The play “Walking Toward America” had its world premiere at The Open Eye Theater in Margaretville, New York over Memorial Day weekend. Ilga describes what it’s like to see her story performed on stage.
“It’s kind of weird because I think the catharsis came when I wrote those stories. I holed up for several weekends, had a good cry, and then I was done with it. It is strange to hear the words I’ve written on stage. I’m not an accomplished author or a theater person. It was just interesting.”
And Ilga says because those events happened to her so long ago, she feels somewhat removed from them. Even though the play focuses on the past, she hopes there’s a take-away message for young people who see it.
“It takes courage. It takes perseverance. There’s always hope. My parents, even in the most dire circumstances, felt we’d come through, that our lives would not end there. That, to me, meant a lot.”
You can see the dramatic reading of “Walking Toward America” this Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students, and proceeds will benefit the Library Foundation.