On 25 March 1944, members of the Waffen-SS, regular German soldiers of the 1st Edelweiss Mountain Division and Greek gendarmes forcibly deported the Jews of Ioannina to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On the same days (23, 24, 25 March), Greek Jews were deported from Athens, Chalkida, Kastoria, Arta, Preveza, Larissa, Trikala and Volos. Few will return.
The performance “On a Saturday” tells their history and their displacement through testimonies, poems, narratives and songs: romaniote, sephardi, epirus and “camp songs” – folk melodies of which the exiles changed the words in order to be able to communicate and convey their experience.
The starting point of the show is the short story by Dimitris Hatzis “Sambethai Kampilis” from the collection of short stories “The end of our small town”. The author returns to Ioannina of his childhood, describing the local Jewish community with its long history as well as the close relationship and conflict of two important personalities of the community, the conservative head of the community Sambethai Kampilis and the poet and communist Joseph Eliya.
The second part, based on survivors’ testimonies, recounts the invasion of Wehrmacht and the Greek police inside the Castle, the Jewish neighborhood of the city, on March 25, 1944 – a Saturday – and traces the deportation of the community from Ioannina to Auschwitz, focusing on a little-known but pivotal event: The Sonderkommando uprising on a Saturday, October 7, 1944, in which Greek Jews played a leading role.
French director Irène Bonnaud is the dramaturg, director and author (of the second part of the play). Fotini Banou narrates the story, moving from talking to singning, while giving voice to the 11 small statues created for the performance by Clio Makri.
Production: TV Control Center | Co-Production: Scène Nationale Châteauvallon – Liberté (Toulon, France) and Théâtre National de Nice (France). | Organisation of the french tour: SENS INTERDITS, Festival international de théâtre.
The performance was presented in France on: 24, 25, 26 & 27 June 2021 at the theatre La Commune CDN Aubervilliers (Paris / premiere of the play), on 10 July 2021 at Châteauvallon / Le Liberté (Toulon), 13 & 14 July 2021 at the Théâtre National de Nice (Nice), 15, 18, 19, 21 & 22 October 2021 at the SENS INTERDITS festival (Lyon) and 15, 16 & 17 November 2021 at the Théâtre des 13 Vents (Montpellier). In Greece, it was presented at TV Control Center (Athens), from 19 March to 22 May 2022 and at the Ioannina Municipal Theatre on 8 & 9 June 2022. On 25 January 2023 it will be presented at the Thessalian Theatre, in the framework of the events for the International Day of Remembrance of Holocaust Victims.
The performance is dedicated to the memory of Esther-Stella Cohen, one of the last survivors of the genocide in Ioannina, who is not with us anymore. She welcomed us to her home in the autumn of 2019 for a long narrative and we owe her, among many other things, the title of the performance.
We would like to thank a lot for their support during the research and the preparation of the performance: Kaiti Hatzi, Angelina Hatzi, Savvas Michail Matsas, Katerina Matsa, Allegra Matsa, Diamanto Matsa, John Kalef Ezra, Mathilde Eskinatzi, Leonardos Batis, Sakis Negrin, Panos Vadaloukas, Adi Liraz, Saranna Biel-Cohen, Mimis Cohen, Yiannis Alexakis, Popi Banou, Elias Poulos, and Eleni Pangratiou-Alexaki, who recently passed away. We would also like to thank the Jewish Museum of Greece and the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris.
The text of the performance will be published in January 2023 by Koukkida Publications.
Excerpts from reviews:
• “And all this in a monologue: the sensational Fotini Banou, among eleven small, expressive sculptures by Clio Makri (…), evokes shivers of emotion. In a performance punctuated by songs that she sings with a crystal clear voice, a cappella – Romaniote, Sephardic, Epirus, rebetiko which multiply the emotion. And that “he says”, which sounds “dry”, “distanced”, before each testimony, works antithetically: it tears your heart out. As for the finale, with its two or three sentences by Esther (Stella) Cohen, a Jewish woman from Ioannina who survived Auschwitz, it’s a punch to the face that, for me at least, made me burst into tears. This “little” performance is an Event. You MUST see it! I hope it will be repeated and that it will travel. (…) I can only express my regards for the emotion it gave me.”
(Yiorgos Sariyiannis, “The Fourth Bell”)
• “Among the twenty or so sculptures that occupy the empty scene, Fotini Banou stands out as a giant. She also seems particularly alive and receptive. (…) The songs performed by the Greek actress delicately evoke the tragedy of the past in order to place the disappeared among the living. (…) Like a storyteller, obsessed with the characters to the point of regularly identifying with them, Fotini Banou tells the story (…) The way she stands there, completely present, at the crossroads of many eras and various discourses, makes us understand that the terrible Sabbath has not exactly passed: something of it remains in today’s Greece, which Irène Bonnaud describes as ‘the epicentre of European tragedies’.”
(Anaïs Heluin, “On a Saturday, a tragic day in Epirus”, sceneweb.fr)
• “…an effortless performance, inhabited by ghosts, intense and gentle at the same time, where music and poetry are balsam for the soul!”
(Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, “What is left of the Jews of Ioannina, the small and the large city of Epirus”, Balagan)
The performance is in the greek language.