Lesser-known World War II history comes to life at Hylton this weekend

The story of an all-female regiment, nicknamed Night Witches by the Nazis, comes to the Hylton Performing Arts Center Oct. 7-8.

night witches cover
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dougher

Inspired by the true story of the Soviet Union’s 588th Bomber Regiment, Night Witches tells the tale of a notorious, all-female crew of military aviators known for dropping 23,000 tons of explosives over Nazi Germany during World War II.

Produced by Elena Kritter, a Culpeper native, Night Witches will take to the stage Oct. 7-8 at Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas.

In light of Puerto Rico’s recent devastation, two free performances will take place at Warrenton-Fauquier Airport on Oct. 9 and at The Hangar on Ground Rush Farm on Oct.10. Donations are encouraged, and guests are asked to email for reservations.

All four performances start at 7 p.m.

“We held auditions back in February,” Kritter says, then came casting and “phase one … getting the bones of the story up.”

This weekend’s performance marks the beginning of phase two, “refining [the play], getting the show back down to Virginia before taking it up to New York,” where they will perform in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Kritter came up with the idea for this play four years ago after coming across a curious headline in a New York Times obituary: ‘WWII Night Witch dies at 91.’

Intrigued, Kritter read on about Nadezhda Popova, 588th Bomber Regiment member and nicknamed Night Witch. As history unraveled through her research, Kritter decided that she had to share their story.

Using adapted accounts of mostly 20-something female fighter pilots, as told in the book A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II by Anne Noggle, Kritter worked to once again shine the spotlight on these courageous Soviet Air Force volunteers.

According to Kritter, the Night Witches took to the skies in “really, really outdated aircrafts. They were crop-dusting planes, made of linen and wood.”

Fortunately for these female fighters, tactics outshined technology. The witches would take off in the dead of night, perch over their target at high altitudes, kill the engine and then glide closer to the enemy before dropping bombs.

“The only thing that the Nazis would hear on the ground was the whistling sounds of the bomb right before they detonated,” Kritter says. “The Germans started saying that the whistling sound sounded like a witch’s broomstick and that there were night witches in the air.”

For $25, guests can see and hear what that whistling and warring was all about.