Haunted by the Holocaust, these Montreal playwrights craft ode to female friendship

Daughters of Mile End follows the evolution of a friendship between four women, all children of Holocaust survivors.

All-female cast of 13 features actors ranging from pre-teens to sexagenarians

The play explores the immigrant experience, following the evolution of a friendship between four fictional women, all of whom are children of Holocaust survivors. (Submitted by Claudia Litvak Polachek)

Pearl Lottner Rothenberg knows what it's like to grow up the child of Jewish immigrants — Holocaust survivors who didn't like to speak about what they called the milchume, the Yiddish word for war.

"Nobody used the word Holocaust," Rothenberg told CBC's All in a Weekend. She recalled growing up in a household where secrecy was pervasive, filled with "questions about things I've wanted to know my whole life."

Claudia Litvak Polachet, left, and Pearl Lottner Rothenberg are the co-creators of an original play entitled Daughters of Mile End. (Labyrinth Stage Productions )

Rothenberg and her artistic partner, Claudia Litvak Polachek, also a child of Jewish immigrants who came to Montreal in the 1970s, collaborated on the writing of their new original play, Daughters of Mile End.

"There was a very strong compulsion to write it," said Rothenberg.

For Rothenberg, the story is partly autobiographical — one of the play's main characters is loosely based on her life.

Daughters of Mile End is an exploration of the immigrant experience, but most of all it follows the evolution of a friendship between the four fictional women, all of whom are children of Holocaust survivors.

The all-female multi-generational cast of thirteen includes actors ranging in age from pre-teens to sexagenarians.

Despite frequent references to the Second World War, the play is actually quite light at moments, as the playwriting duo made an effort to balance the dark subject matter with moments of humour and hope.

"Each survivor is a miracle story in and of themselves," said Rothenberg.

The all-female multi-generational cast of thirteen includes actors ranging in age from their pre-teens to their sixties. (Submitted by Claudia Litvak Polachek)

Polachek and Rothenberg are co-founders of the relatively new Labyrinth Stage Productions, which is putting on its second original production at Concordia's D.B. Clarke Theatre from April 3 to 6.

Daughters of Mile End takes place across 50 years in the lives of the characters, harkening back to a time before trendy coffee shops, when Mile End was overrun with poor immigrant families.

"The audience, as silent witnesses, walks away feeling as if they've known these women for decades, not just a couple of hours," said Polachek.

She said the duo wanted to create a story that spoke to universal themes of mother-daughter relationships, families changed forever by violence and the challenges that come with starting over somewhere new.

"Our play is really a window into the immigration experience," she said.


Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.

With files from CBC's All in a Weekend


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?