|My Heart in a Suitcase|
Over the years, I have been involved with three presentations of My Heart in a Suitcase and each of the last two times, I was fortunate to have connected with Dr. Heini Halberstam, retired faculty member from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who traveled on the Kindertransport at the age of 12. I reached out to Dr. Halberstam without expectation at the time of the first presentation; I was looking to make a deeper connection to the project and identified him online as a local “Kind” who had benefited from the 1930s mission effort overseas.
Dr. Halberstam traveled from Urbana to Bloomington in 2007 (where I was working at the time) for the first local presentation of My Heart in a Suitcase. He was very touched by the play and told me afterwards that it reminded him of some of the details and emotions of his experience that he hadn't thought about in a long time. For both a public and school performance, he participated in a post-show discussion. He did the same at Sangamon Auditorium in 2009, and this time also sat down with me to video an interview in which he answered some questions that had been submitted by attending students in advance of the show.
This week, I learned that Dr. Halberstam had passed away earlier this year. As I read his distinguished obituary, I was humbled by the thought of having had the opportunity to introduce him to students and teachers through ArtsPower’s play. But both times I worked with Dr. Halberstam were before I was a mother, and now that I am, reading the story of the early part of his life resonates even more deeply for me. It was his mother, already a widow, who made the tough decision to send her only child to England on the Kindertransport. She died of typhus in a Nazi work camp three years later.
Dr. Halberstam made significant contributions to the field of mathematics and prime numbers. For those contributions, the world can thank both his birth mother, who had the wisdom to secure his safety, and his English foster mother, who recognized his intellectual abilities and made his education possible, despite having no obligation or expectation to do so at a time when orphaned children populated much of Europe. I love the thought of the contributions of both of these mothers. Rest in peace, Dr. Halberstam, and eternal blessings to you and your mothers.