Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany is a powerful multi-media play set at the Kraine Theater in New York’s East Village. As part of the 2023 and 17th annual FRIGID Fringe Festival, the true story of Eleanor Ramrath was told by her granddaughter Ingrid Garner in a solo theatrical production.
The story begins with reference to composer Englebert Humperdinck’s exquisitely sublime Evening Prayer from his opera Hansel and Gretel (1893), as it gently accompanied Garner’s opening monologue. Evening Prayer is a touching musical work that captures the innocence and vulnerability of childhood and the power of faith and hope in the face of adversity.
In the back of a simple set that included two chairs and a steamer trunk was a large screen that, throughout the performance, displayed period scenes and film highlighting the experiences of an American family trapped in Nazi Berlin during World War II.
Ingrid Garner portrayed a chilling tale that began in America for her grandmother Eleanor. The German American Ramrath family was drawn back to Germany for work due to the crushing financial environment in the depression era United States. Responding to Germany’s bluster of financial prowess under Adolf Hitler’s new leadership, in September 1939, Eleanor’s father accepted an offer of a lucrative engineering position in Hamburg.
After all, perhaps Hitler was truthful when he signed the Munich agreement with Neville Chamberlain that permitted Germany to annex the Sudetenland in exchange for a promise from Hitler to respect Czechoslovakia’s territorial integrity. Chamberlain believed that this agreement would prevent war in Europe and promote peace.
9-year-old Eleanor and her family left their comfortable home in Stratford, New Jersey, and sailed from New York to Germany on the S. S. Hamburg. Early in the voyage, the ship’s captain announced that Germany had declared war on Poland. To avoid an attack from an enemy vessel, the ship’s crew speedily repainted the German colors on the ship to those of France. Still, later in the same voyage, the captain announced that England and France had declared war on Germany –colors were changed to those of Norway. Upon arriving in Hamburg, the Ramraths attempted to purchase return trip tickets, which could be purchased only with dollars. Since Eleanor’s father had traded all his U. S. currency for marks and no German bank would exchange marks for dollars, the family was trapped.
This began a six-year nightmare of peril, Gestapo intimidation, sacrifice, air raids and bombing, the destruction of Berlin, near starvation, and Russian occupation. Listening to foreign radio broadcasts was punishable by death. Hitler Youth members were taught to kill, suppress feelings, and report any family member criticizing the Nazi regime. Eleanor’s father was overheard by a secretary expressing his view that Germany could not prevail over the allies. He narrowly missed execution but lost his job.
Through Garner’s gripping characterizations, we experienced the family’s fears, the children’s humiliations in German schools, Eleanor witnessing executions, the appalling treatment of Jews, war and death, and coming of age. Audience members sat on the edges of their seats as this story of unspeakable fear and deprivation unfolded. We sensed in vivid detail Eleanor’s feelings and sensations of hiding underground as the Russians overwhelmed the boys and old men defending Berlin in the final days of April 1945. We were keenly aware of Eleanor’s fears of Russian revenge and rape.
Heartbroken and numb, amid the post-war wreckage of Berlin, Eleanor heard a bird singing and scampers about to see flowers emerging from the wreckage. Humperdinck’s Evening Prayer returns in its gentle representation of Hansel and Gretel’s faith and hopes that their prayer will be answered and that they will be guided safely back home.
This deeply personal family story is an important, unique, and vital account of survival and hopes seen through the eyes of a child ably characterized by gifted actor and raconteur Ingrid Garner. There’s much more to this, with just two performances to go.
Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany Presented as part of the 2023 FRIGID Fringe Festival Adapted and Performed by granddaughter Ingrid Garner Directed by Craig Tyrl
The Kraine Theater 85 E 4th Street New York, NY 10003 (212) 777-6088 https://www.frigid.nyc/
Runs 2/25 at 1:40pm, 3/3 at 6:40pm.. Tickets available at www.frigid.nyc
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Kissing the Floor at Theater Row, Seth Rudesky at Café Carlyle, and Who Murdered Love.