The Crusader Newspaper Group

‘Nana’ gives first person account of the horrors of the Holocaust

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader

First Run Features has announced the premiere of “Nana,” directed by Serena Dykman. The film documents Dykman’s journey with her mother Alice as they retrace her grandmother’s Auschwitz survival story.

Born in Poland, Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant survived Ravensbruck, Malchow and Auschwitz– where she was the forced translator for the “Angel of Death,” Josef Mengele. Maryla dedicated her life after the war to publicly speaking about her survival to younger generations. Alice and Serena, daughter and granddaughter, explore how Maryla’s outspoken activism continues today, in a world where survivors are disappearing, and intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism are on the rise.

It has to be hard to have survived the Holocaust to not only be saved from extinction but to also have to work as a translator for a man referred to as the “Angel of Death.” It has to be hard to know that your parents and other family members were sent to the ovens in Auschwitz, never to be seen again. It has to be hard to be working in the camps and while searching through a pile of clothes you find your mother’s coat—a mother who you know lost her life at the hands of Adolph Hitler’s operatives. It had to be hard to recount all these stories as a survivor and trust that something that you shared with someone—either young or old—would eventually be used to ensure that atrocities like the Holocaust never occur again.

And I can only imagine as a daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivor Maryla that it had to be particularly painful to go through transcripts and the memoirs of your mother and grandmother and share her story with the world. Such are the circumstances that we find chronicled in “Nana,” an in-depth look at the trials and hardships of Maryla, as she struggled to survive so that she could live to tell her story of survival.

This documentary touched me in so many ways. It was raw, and Maryla recounted her life with such dignity and sometimes even with humor. But there was nothing even remotely funny about the way in which she and others were treated during these terrible years. As an African-American, I do realize the horrors of the Slave Trade and Middle Passage. I have seen movies and heard accounts, and even read a couple of slave narratives. I understand about the lives lost and the atrocities that would compel my ancestors to jump into the ocean, as opposed to being sold as chattel to men who could not have been seen as human. But to have Ms. Maryla tell her story in her own words—while her brave heart was yet beating—was a tear-jerker. However, it was the most educational and visual film that I have seen so far about that time in history.

Said director Serena Dykman: “I was inspired to make this documentary after reading my grandmother’s memoir a couple of years ago. I realized that she was more than a survivor, more than a Polish Jew. The reason she went back to Auschwitz and told her story publicly thousands of times was so that it should never be forgotten, and would never happen to anyone again. Her activism and fight against intolerance lives on today, 14 years after her death, through the thousands of people she touched, and now through “Nana.”

For more information, visit

Lydia Diamond
LYDIA DIAMOND IS the playwright behind a re-staging of Smart People playing at Writers Theatre.

Lydia Diamond’s Smart People tackles race and gender politics at Writers Theatre

Four intelligent, attractive and opinionated young urban professionals—a doctor, an actress, a psychologist and a neurobiologist studying the human brain’s response to race—search for love, success and identity while also attempting to navigate the intricacies of racial and sexual politics. This whip-smart new play taps into current cultural conversation in an enthralling and provocative way, taking on deep questions of the nature of prejudice with razor sharp wit.

Staged in the intimate Gillian Theatre, this sexy, serious and fiercely funny new play explores the inescapable nature of racism and other tricky topics with rapid fire dialogue, while shattering assumptions about our culture’s ingrained attitudes of racism, sexism and classism. You’re sure to be captivated by one of the smartest new plays of its time!

Smart People
JULIAN PARKER, as Dr. Jackson Moore, tends to Kayla Parker, who plays aspiring actress Valerie Johnston, in a scene from Smart People.

There is a lot going on in this play, but in the end, it opens audience members’ eyes to discrimination within the African-American and Asian communities. It questions why we expect certain attributes from one segment of people and maybe wrongly overlook contributions of others. The playwright behind “Smart People” is Lydia Diamond, who is also the playwright behind “Stick Fly” and “The Bluest Eye,” among others. Diamond always presents enough substance in her plays to keep your interest. However, “Smart People,” at times, seems to throw too much out at one time. Nevertheless, it is a sharp play that goes at a fast pace and runs until June 10, 2018, at the Writers Theatre, located at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL. For information, visit

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