Holocaust survivors’ story links past with present 

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“Moses Man: Finding Home” follows the story of Holocaust survivors Lily and Kalman Haber and their nine-year journey from Vienna in 1938 through Europe, Cyprus, Palestine, and Africa to find home and freedom in America. The team behind the musical is filming at locations on the journey—most recently in Vienna, Austria, and Krakow, Poland.

The Habers are the late parents of Deborah Haber, who wrote the musical alongside award-winning composer and producer Casey Filiaci. Deborah Haber is the founding executive artistic director of DEEP Arts (Develop, Explore, Enrich, Perform), a nonprofit arts organization in Rochester that develops and presents new works that include education and outreach. 

Deborah Haber and Filiaci brought “Moses Man: Finding Home” to New York City in 2015, where it debuted as part of the New York Musical Festival. The debut came at a poignant time—Germany had just opened its borders to Syrian refugees.

The humanitarian crises of displacement, persecution, and genocide motivated the creative duo to continue the story’s mission of shining light on global displacement. The story’s response to these crises is even more resonant today, as the number of refugees and forcefully displaced people in the world has reached over 100 million.

Since the production’s stage debut, Haber and Filiaci have reinvented the traditional musical version of “Moses Man” by incorporating documentary film elements and the work of visual artists. The show now intersects original music, world music, and historical and contemporary social justice themes to link the past with the present.

Through a partnership with Blue Sky Project, DEEP Arts is creating a feature-length documentary film that showcases the development and creative process of the musical, including interviews with artists who reflect the refugee experience in their works based on displacement, input from scholars, and testimonies from refugees. Behind the filmmaking is president of Blue Sky Project, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker David Marshall. Upon completion, the documentary will be available for in-classroom use and is intended for primetime distribution on public television with PBS affiliate WXXI’s commitment to air the film, and interface with the distributor American Public Television.

In March 2022, the team behind “Moses Man: Finding Home” traveled to Berlin to participate in Indiana University’s European Gateway Symposium on the Displacement of Peoples Between Africa and Europe. While there, the team volunteered at a Ukrainian refugee site. The team was meant to continue to Vienna on that trip, but was unable to do so due to COVID-19.

“Volunteering at a Ukrainian refugee site while we were there was an unforgettable experience,” says Haber. “COVID-19 prevented our continuing on to Vienna at that time. We’re so fortunate that everything could be rescheduled.”

The team was able to reschedule and resume their trip this month. From Nov. 8-16, the team traveled to Vienna and Krakow to film at locations depicted in the musical and present multimedia programs to students.

In Krakow, the creative team worked with Friends of JCC Krakow to connect with young Ukrainian refugees interested in participating in the project. The team toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. This location ties directly to the musical; the song “I Won’t Disappear” depicts the journey of Haber’s uncle, Alfred Juffy, who was murdered at Auschwitz. 

In Vienna, locations depicted in the musical that the team were able to visit and film at included Gedenkstätte Karajangasse Memorial, where Kalman Haber was interrogated by Adolf Eichmann, and Stadttempel Synagogue, where Kalman and Lily participated in a rushed mass wedding. 

Gedenkstätte Karajangasse Memorial is housed in Gymnasium am Augarten, a school with a high percentage of immigrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia, and Iran. Through a partnership with DEEP Arts, the school presented several multimedia programs to students, including audio testimony from Lily Haber. Rochester’s oldest Holocaust survivor, she passed away in 2020 at the age of 101. 

Students in several classes also participated in another art project entitled “Moses Man Finding Home: Through the Eyes of a Child,” in which they expressed their own experiences with displacement. Artwork from this project will be included in future exhibitions at Indiana University, in New York City, and in Rochester.

“The collaboration between our school and the DEEP Arts project on forced migration gives our students a chance to connect the present with the past,” says Árpád Krämer, headmaster of  Gymnasium am Augarten. “The necessity of that kind of work is as relevant as ever.”

“Moses Man: Finding Home” has continued to receive support both locally and internationally. The project has received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Rep. Joseph Morelle. Funders include the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, the New York Council on the Arts, the Rochester Area Community Foundation, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

By using the project to bridge the past and the present, Haber finds that the work will shed light on a humanitarian crisis that has only grown with time.

“Just as my parents did, refugees are fleeing the homes they love in order to stay alive, not knowing what the next day will bring.” The mission of “Moses Man: Finding Home” to link past and present, she adds, “shines a light that ‘Never Again’ is truly ‘Never Ending.’”

Evan Coleman is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a University of Rochester graduate. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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