Central to the play are an 81-year-old Jewish woman, Frieda Pressner, and her son Emile. The action is set in 1992 in Philadelphia, where Frieda lives with the adult Emile, his wife and teenage children. There are flashbacks to World War II, to the attic in a Ukrainian village where Frieda was hiding from the Nazis, with the then five-year-old Emile.
Like many Holocaust survivors, Frieda has not wanted to talk about the traumatic events she lived through in WWII (and in WWI as well). Thinking of the pogroms and betrayals of the Jews where she lived, Frieda calls the Ukrainians “murderers,” in the same breath as she talks of the good Ukrainians who saved them. The adult Emile just avoids emotional involvement; he claims he has very few memories of those times.
But the persistent questioning of Frieda’s granddaughter, who is doing a school project on the Holocaust, and a surprise visit from a member of the Ukrainian family who hid them upsets the fragile peace of this American family. In a flood of agonizing memories for Frieda and Emile, the hurt that had long been suppressed emerges. But not only pain - also the love in the attic, and the fond memories of the games that Emile and Frieda played there. In the end, they remember. The question remains: How to get past the currents of hate and mutual demonization, in 1943 and now?
In 37 short scenes, alternating between 1992 in Philadelphia and 1943-1944 in Gribniv, Ukraine, there emerges in “Something That Belongs to You” a story of survival and memory, of complex Ukrainian-Jewish relations, of struggles to remember and forgive. The language of this partially autobiographical play is poetic (especially in the wartime scenes!) and there are in it flashes of humor, even burlesque. The underlying themes are of coming to term with great loss, of the importance of both remembering and forgetting on the way to forgiving, and of the choices, always there, that human beings must make between good and evil in terrible times.