By Denise Koch

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Recent surveys show knowledge of the Holocaust is fading, particularly among millennials. But, a play about to open at Everyman Theatre shows how the horror of that chapter in history can reverberate for generations.

Rich Hollander, a former local reporter and businessman, found a briefcase in a crawlspace of his parents’ attic after they died suddenly in a car crash.

In the briefcase were nearly 100 letters. The letters were written by his ancestors, trapped in Poland during the Nazi occupation.

Hollander’s parents left for America in time. The rest of the family did not.

The letters recount life in the Krakow ghetto, and stopped when they were all exterminated in concentration camps.

Hollander took those letters and made them into a book.

“At the time, the goal was to give voice to the people who didn’t survive, as well as learn more about my own family,” he said.

A theatre director in Chicago read the book and asked playwright Karen Hartman to make the book into a play. The play, “The Book of Joseph,” is in rehearsal right now at Everyman Theatre.

The character of Hollander is being played by actor Bruce Nelson, who says, “It’s overwhelming. I’m not Jewish. To be confronted with this horrific murder of people. The systematic cleansing of an entire race of people.”

Playwright Hartman is Jewish. She says the play is about more than the letters.

“This is the story of that father and why he put that briefcase away,” Hartman said. “This is a story about what we do with our parents’ pain. And the process of building a life that is more intimate with our family.”

The play has been performed once before, in Chicago, where it had great success.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland is mounting an exhibit in conjunction with the Everyman production. It opens April 26.

“The Book of Joseph” opens at Everyman Theatre on May 9.

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