“The Soap Myth” starring Ed Asner by Playwright Jeff Cohen

Jennie Cohen with Ed Asner. Photo by Michael Skolnick

On April 30, the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis presented their 2019 campaign kick-off. One of the special events for that evening was a provocative play titled, The Soap Myth by American playwright Jeff Cohen. It starred Ed Asner, a seven-time Emmy Award and five-time Golden Globe Winner, famous for his role as Lou Grant in television shows, The Mary Tyler Moore Show airing from 1970–77 and one of its spin offs titled Lou Grant from 1977–1982.

Also sponsored by The National Bank of Indianapolis, the venue for the play was the dazzling Palladium at the Center for Performing Arts in Carmel. A delicious reception and chance to meet the performers was held afterward.

Asner was born in Kansas City to Russian Jewish immigrants and he was raised Orthodox. In person, Asner is a lot like he was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show – cantankerous but endearing. He will be 90 in six months but is still a talented actor.

He told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper from one of the cities on the play’s touring schedule, that he has no plans to retire, or to even slow down. “Are you crazy? Acting is life to me,” Asner said. “It gives me energy.”

The play had a narrator and only three other actors beside Asner. The other cast members included Dee Pelletier, Ned Eisenberg, and Liba Vaynberg. Both Pelletier and Eisenberg portrayed two different people in this play. The acting was excellent as was the plot.

Asner plays a disgruntled, but loveable Holocaust survivor who, during World War II, witnessed soap that was made from the fat of human corpses. He even has an actual photo of it. He would like the Holocaust Museum to include his story in an exhibit, but they say they cannot since there is not enough documentation to back up his story.

The director of the museum claims this is vitally important because otherwise Holocaust deniers will say it is a made-up story. Furthermore, they will claim that the other Holocaust exhibits were also fabricated. The observer of the play has to make up his or her own mind about what is fact and what is a myth and how important that difference is.

Ironically on May 31, one month after I saw the play, I received the following press release. Along with it was a letter to the Executive Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sara Bloomfield. The letter, signed by 37 scholars expressed dismay at the omission of Carl Laemmle from the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

We do not have room to list all 37, but two are writers we have published so I will mention them: Rabbi Prof. Allen Podet, State University College At Buffalo and Dr. Rafael Medoff, The David S.Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

Hollywood mogul saved Jewish from Hitler – so why does U.S. Holocaust Museum ignore him?
Thirty-seven prominent Holocaust scholars, filmmakers, and other public figures have signed a letter expressing concern about the refusal of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to recognize a Hollywood producer who saved hundreds of Jews from Hitler.

The letter was organized by Sanford C. Einstein, an entertainment industry executive from Northern California, whose father was one of the Jews rescued by Hollywood mogul Carl Laemmle.

Laemmle was responsible for such legendary films as All Quiet on the Western Front and Phantom of the Opera. Himself a refugee from Germany, Laemmle served as a financial guarantor for several hundred Jews so they could flee from his hometown of Laupheim and other parts of Nazi Germany.

Laemmle’s rescue efforts were cut short by the Roosevelt administration, which informed him in 1938 that he was too old to be considered a reliable guarantor for any more refugees. He was 71 at the time.

There is no mention of Laemmle in the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, although individuals who aided far fewer numbers of Jewish refugees are included – such as Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, who brought 50 refugee children to America.

The curators of the exhibit, Daniel Greene and Rebecca Erbelding, claimed to Einstein that Laemmle was left out of the exhibit because they “were limited by a lack of artifacts or visual material related to Laemmle.” Yet the New York Times and other news outlets had no trouble finding visual materials about Laemmle when they published articles about him in recent years.

(See, for example: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/movies/unlike-his-peers-a-studio-chief-saved-jews-from-the-nazis.html.)

Now back to the play. Sometimes a valuable part of a performance takes place during the questions and answers afterward. It was then that Jeff Cohen mentioned PBS had filmed the play in New York. He hoped it would eventually be available for viewing on local PBS stations, but he said it would definitely be available on all streaming devices for free.

Concluding remarks by Cohen: “When you are upset about anti-Semitism and you want to remember the victims of the Holocaust, I urge you to stand up against Islamophobia, against hatred of all peoples who are the “other” – the different ones, the darker ones who worship a different God in a different way – because it is all the same thing.

You cannot just hide in the corner watching and say, ‘Look they are going after those other people so maybe they won’t get to us.’ First of all, that is not the Jewish tradition. We are supposed to be on the side of the oppressed. Secondly, they are going to come for us. They did it before and will do it again. We have to stand up against all prejudice, bigotry and hatred.”
Jennie Cohen 6-7-19

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