Interview: Santa's Story

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Aviva Pelham (photo: Jesse Kramer)

Showing at the Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay, is Santa's Story, a tale of courage and endurance, and about the Jewish Diaspora.  It is a one-woman show depicting the Capetonian Santa Pelham’s journey of bravery, surviving anti-Semitism and heart-breaking losses, to a new life here, on a continent unknown to her. Her daughter, singer Aviva Pelham, brings this inspirational story to life. Herman Lategan spoke to Aviva:  

What is Santa’s Story about?

Santa's Story is about the life journey of my remarkable 96-year-old mother, Santa, from her birth and youth in pre 2nd world war Germany, following  on to her family's flight as refugees to Spain, to France and eventually to Africa, where she married someone she had never met.

How long has your mother been walking around with that story?

Her life was turned upside down as the Nazis came to power in Germany in her early childhood. This is when her inspiring story of courage begins. However she only wrote her memoir when she turned ninety.

Why should come and watch the show?

This show is more than one woman's experiences. It deals with universal themes like discrimination, prejudice and genocide, which regrettably are still pertinent today. Most importantly, however, it showcases the triumph of the human spirit and leaves audiences feeling uplifted.

What can we learn from your mother’s story of survival?

Despite times of desperation, deep grief and irreplaceable loss, she never lost hope and there is a message in this for everyone.

Do you think the younger generation is informed enough about what happened with Jews during the Holocaust?

It is gratifying that the Holocaust is part of the National curriculum and that all learners in South Africa are exposed to information around it. However, nothing can replace the experience of hearing a survivor's story and it is my hope that all learners have this opportunity so that they are able to relate to the atrocities in a more personal way.

The Cape Town Holocaust Centre does important work in this regard.

Do you think anti-Semitism is flaring up again?

Unfortunately I don't believe that this type of baseless hatred was ever fully eradicated. However, I am grateful to live in a country where our constitution affirms the right of all its citizens, no matter religion, race or culture.

How did you prepare for the role, what were the demands, did it upset you, did it make you happy?

The preparation period was very intense. I spent hours with my mother, observing her mannerisms and speech patterns so that I could authentically embody her on stage. Connecting with her trauma was very emotional, but I see it as a privilege that I was able to bond closely with her and ultimately honour her on stage. 

How did your mother react when she saw the show the first time?

My mother has always been very open about sharing her story so she was touched and proud to see it on stage. Watching it and reliving her experiences is very emotional for her but I believe that she finds cathartic.

The music in the show? 

The music spans several countries and time periods and I sing in five languages. I share the stage with three musicians who play seven instruments, helping to create the atmosphere as the story unfolds.

Nicky Jansenon, Matthew Reid, Aviva Pelham and Petri Salonen (photo: Jesse Kramer)

Santa's Story opens on 6 February and runs until 14 February. Book at


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