by Helen Kluger

Helen Kluger - Rukulibam

BBC World Service: Play of the Week

Broadcast: Saturday 13th April 1996 @ 11:30 p.m.

This version of "Rukulibam" is an expanded version of the play first broadcast in 1995 on BBC World Service: 30-Minute Drama. This version opens with a 3 1/2 minute interview by Gordon House with the author, Helen Kluger, and concludes with a touching 15 minute interview with the lead actress, Hana-Maria Pravda.

"Rukulibam" is based on Helen Kluger's mother's experiences of surviving the Holocaust, having survived 2 1/2 years in concentration camps. A couple of years earlier, her mother was asked to make testimony of it on video for Yale University's Holocaust Survivors Film Project and it was while watching it, Helen realised it was a remarkable story that had to be told. How almost her entire family perished in Auschwitz, and how she, herself, survived three concentration camps, ending up being liberated from Bergen-Belsen.

Even though a lot of people say there really is no point in having another play about the Holocaust, that they've heard this story again and again and it is time to move on, Helen believes the opposite. She believes our past is our future and in these troubled times people do forget. You have to be very careful with your dramas and she has sat through plays about the Holocaust that, if she had been near the door, she would have left because it was unbearable. To her, you have to find different angles and she felt she has as in this case on the soldiers who walked into this place of Hell and saw the survivors and how it affected them as well.

Gordon House noted that there was an extraordinary coincidence in the fact that they cast, as the star part of Milina, the actress Hana Maria Pravda without knowing anything of her historical background. They found that she, too, had been a survivor of the camps and that created an amazing emotional feeling in the studio when they recorded the play. Helen noted that a young Studio Manager went up to Hana afterwards saying it was a privilege to work with her. She also found out that Hana had been in the same camp as her mother, Theresienstadt, and in fact was on the "Death March", but didn't get to Bergen-Belsen. To think that Hana and her mother, literally, most probably passed, touched each other, physically, was astonishing.

The play opens in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1995, where an old Jewish lady boards a train at Prague Station. Milina, on her way to a reunion of survivors of her particular concentration camp, enters a train carriage occupied by a taciturn Englishman. Timothy, it seems, will be her travelling companion on her journey....

"Rukulibam" won the Bronze Award in the New York Radio Festivals and was the Independent Newspaper choice of 1995.

With Hana-Maria Pravda [Milina, an Old Jewish Lady], Alec McCowen [Timothy, Milina's Tight-lipped English Travelling Companion], and Milan Kocourek [The Guard]. Produced by Gordon House. Re-broadcast on Sunday 14th April 1996 @ 5:30 p.m.

Tentative recording date listed on BBC World Service Archive site is Tuesday 19th March 1996.

Note: In 1995, a shortened version of "Rukulibam" was originally broadcast on BBC World Service: 30 Minute Drama. For those interested, a play to complement this would be Hana Maria Pravda's real-life story, "The War Diary of Hana Maria Pravda", broadcast on BBC World Service: Play of the Week in 1998.


Radio Review in 'The Tablet', the international Catholic news weekly, page 26, 27th April 1996.

Margaret Howard

A play written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Rukulibam, was the BBC World Service Play of the Week (13 April). Written by Helen Kluger, it was a two§hander set in a railway train travelling out of Prague. Milina, played by Hana-Maria Pravda, was a dear old Jewish lady, laden with a heavy suitcase, ever ready with sandwiches, peppermints and thermos flask which she thrust upon her tight-lipped English travelling companion, played by Alec McCowen. It turned out that they had a connection — both had been in Belsen, she as an inmate and he as a 19-year-old soldier whose regiment stumbled across the camp in 1945. Over the train journey their memories came together and finally it was the victim of the suffering who was able to offer comfort to the liberator. As they parted he said "Rukulibam" to Milina, which means "I kiss your hand", just as the women at Belsen had kissed the hands of their liberators.

The real coup de theatre came after the play had finished when the director of the drama, Gordon House, revealed that the actress, Hana-Maria Pravda, was herself a survivor of the concentration camps. On a forced march from Auschwitz to Belsen she had kept a diary from which she recalled how, after only seven days' march, 15 of her friends had been shot, and she decided that the only thing to do was to escape. This she managed to do, only to be recaptured. Curiously, her guard decided to let her go, but this was 1945 when the rout of German troops was beginning.

She described a confused world with hurriedly deserted houses as officers fled. Hastily cast off uniforms lay on the floor. "They were like snakes", she said, "they had cast off their skins. No-one was SS or SR anymore. Everyone was a civilian". It had the smack of truth about it and rather upstaged the play, which seemed a little too pat by comparison.


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