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Citybuzz Reviews Janka


By Chucka Ugwu-Ojo, Fresno Magazine


(Fresno, CA) August, 2006 – “Janka”, a critically-acclaimed one-woman play starring Janice Noga, was performed at Second Space during the month of July. The sometimes chilling, sometimes inspirational account of a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States raises important questions about identity and personalizes the experience of genocide, a tragedy too frequently reduced to mere numbers.


Responsible for the show's creation is Oscar Speace, an Emmy-winning producer, director, and writer, and the son of the title character, Janka Speace. Based upon his mother's own written account of her time imprisoned in Auschwitz, one of the Nazis' most notorious concentration camps, the story revolves around one woman's lifelong struggle to overcome the almost total destruction of her old life.


Noga gives an especially brilliant performance, effectively conveying the psychological consequences of such a traumatic experience. Interspersing joyful memories of family life with the horrific details of years spent under Nazi control, Noga makes it clear that no matter how far she moved away, no matter how profound the love for her husband and sons, Janka was never able to fully escape her past.


The need to relive the tragedy takes on an even greater level of importance as many of the younger Holocaust survivors are beginning to die of old age. Following arguably the worst crime perpetrated against a single group of people in history, the international community came to a quick consensus that a catastrophe of such magnitude could never happen again. Now, only a little more than six decades since Hitler's armies were resoundly defeated, one may question whether the lessons learned during World War II continue to be heeded. After virtually no response to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and the world's current policy of collective indifference towards conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, national interests seem to be again marked by a surprising disregard for human suffering.


“Janka” is so significant not only because it preserves the memory of an individual struggle, but because it serves as a reminder that the Holocaust affected real people with real emotions. There's no realistic chance that the attempted destruction of the European Jewish community will ever be forgotten, but such a recollection is futile without consciousness of how life was transformed on a personal level.