Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany
An intimate and frightening look at the effects of war on civilians.
Most stories of war’s turmoil have been written by the combatants or, in the case of the Second World War, the victims of the Holocaust. Eleanor Ramrath Garner, the title character of Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany wrote about her life-and-death situation in Germany as a teenage transplant to Nazi Germany, a story all the more vivid for describing the suffering and deprivation that ordinary people were put through.
Her granddaughter Ingrid Garner has molded the memoir into a terrifying and moving one-woman show encapsulating her family’s escalating hopelessness at being caught in enemy territory with no way out.
Josef and Matilde Ramrath were a German-American couple living in New Jersey in the years leading up to World War II. Josef, in particular, admired Adolph Hitler and the “good” he was doing for Germany. Despite Matilde’s protestations and the supplication of his children, he decided to move the entire family, including daughter Eleanor and son Frank to Germany to take advantage of a good job and to participate in the new, powerful Germany.
Unfortunately, he exchanged all his American dollars for German marks making it impossible for the family to get out of Berlin after Germany invades Poland. Only dollars could have bought them transportation back to America.
The Ramrath family was stranded in Berlin.
Eleanor and her brother Frank adjusted, going to school and making friends and Josef settled into his job which, sadly, he lost for political reasons. Matilde, still skeptical, was the hausfrau, also adjusting to domestic life in a European city.
Garner’s words are enhanced by a continuous flow of vivid photographs starting with their house in suburban New Jersey. Most horrifying were the photos showing the elegant apartment building where they lived in Berlin, both before the war hit Berlin and then after, leaving the building a smoking ruin. These illuminating photographs were organized by Richard Maritzer who also produced the enhancing soundtrack.
These before and after photographs of their Berlin apartment building brought up images of wartorn Ukraine.
Garner is a wonderful actor, shifting easily and subtly from one character to another, her voice, posture and gestures are just right. She avoids being maudlin and thereby makes her narrative even more heartbreaking. Even when Eleanor is reunited with her favorite apple tree back in New Jersey, she hits just the right note of sweetness and hope.
Clearly reducing her family’s story to one hour stage time required lots of cutting and editing, but some of the chronological leaps are a bit disconcerting.
The simple, period perfect outfit was designed by Dorothy Gail Scott.
Craig Tyrl directed Garner with great care allowing the story to unfold without over-the-top histrionics.
Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany (through March 5, 2023)
2023 FRIGID Fringe Festival
The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.Frigid.nyc
Running time: one hour without an intermission
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