By Joseph Toltz
MELBOURNE, 26 July – A special performance of the music of the Theresienstadt Ghetto (Terezin) was presented in Melbourne on Sunday, July 25.
Terezin, a small garrison town built in 1780 by Emperor Franz-Josef II, lies peacefully among
meadows and gardens, 38 miles northwest of Prague. To us, its German name is well known:
Theresienstadt, one of the most infamous Nazi ghettos, a place where 148,000 people lived.
Eighty-eight thousand passed through on their way to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death and labour camps, while 33,000 died of disease and malnutrition in the camp. On May 8, 1945, the Soviet army liberated 17,247 people on the verge of starvation.
Terezín was the holding camp for Bohemian and Moravian Jews proud, sophisticated communities who had existed in the Czech lands for more than 800 years, embracing full emancipation under the enlightened rule of President Tomás Masaryk’s First Czechoslovak Republic. Joining the Czech Jews in Terezín were 57,000 ‘privileged’ German and Austrian Jews the elderly, decorated war veterans, prominent Jewish intellectuals, community leaders and famous musicians.
In time, Jews from Holland, Luxembourg and Denmark arrived to add to the mix. The intensity of artistic ability that came to Terezín was harnessed by the inmates, for the inmates,
through the organisation of ‘leisure time activities’ music, theatre, cabaret, sports,
art classes, lectures by academic experts. The cream of Central European intellectual life,
those who could not escape the Nazi talons did not sit idly by in this ghetto they created,
formed and breathed life into the most unique and amazing creations.
On July 25, I directed and performed in a concert presented by the Jewish Museum of
Australia that was inspired by the cultural life of Terezín; it complemented the museum’s current exhibition “Theresienstadt: Drawn from the Inside,” a series of intimate artworks by Paul Schwarz and Leo Lowit bequeathed to the museum in 1980 by Regina Schwarz. What made the concert unique was that it was not just a presentation of the music created in Terezín, but it provided a diverse journey into the musical lives of survivors, discussing the importance of music to maintaining hope, providing distraction and entertainment,
offering an opportunity for spiritual resistance, as well as providing an outlet for processing
what was happening to them at the time.
For the past four years, my doctoral dissertation has involved interviewing survivors of the
Holocaust about musical experiences in ghettos and camps. My journey began 12 years ago, with survivors of Terezín, who discussed the place of Brundibár a children’s opera composed by Hans Krasa, a Czech Jew in their hearts and minds. They referred me to other survivors from soloists from the children’s opera all the way to the two most esteemed pianists in the camp, the 96-year-old Edith Steiner-Kraus (in Jerusalem) and the 104-year-old Alice Herz-Sommer. Two years after our interview, Alice is still playing piano three hours a day, living independently in London. Over the course of four years, 25 Terezín survivors spoke to me of their incredible journeys in music in those years of hardship and trial, and their observations coloured our concert.
SO what was music in Terezín? It was an entire world of creativity, from the Jazz of Coco
Schumann and the Ghetto Swingers, to everyday pub songs and work songs. The first musical revues in 1941 were directed by the choral conductor Rafael Schächter and the Czech cabaret artist, Karel Svenk; in time they were joined by German cabaret artists such as Kurt Gerron (co-star in the 1920s with Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), Willi Rosen and others who had escaped Berlin to Holland in 1938 sadly, not far enough away from Germany. Our concert featured some of these cabaret and jazz works.
There were four orchestras, including a famous Terezín string orchestra conducted by Karel An erl. An erl survived Auschwitz and other camps, and following liberation, rose to become
conductor of the Czech Philharmonic until his escape to Toronto in 1968. The concert featured a recorded performance by An erl’s orchestra, filmed as part of the 1944 propaganda
film made by the Czech Aktualita company.
Music became an essential part of children’s pedagogy through the opera Brundibár, the musical play Brou ci (the Fireflies) and participation in the children’s choirs. Adults also formed choirs all male, all female and mixed. Such choirs were devoted to Zionist or Socialist songs,
others sang Yiddish lider (many of the residents singing the language of their grandparents for
the first time) or Jewish liturgical works, and the larger choirs undertook the great oratorios
of the repertoire. At our concert, the King David School Chamber Choir presented excerpts of some of this choral repertoire, including a small section of Brundibár.
There were hundreds of chamber music recitals, from baroque and rococo repertoire, all the way to completely new music composed and performed in the ghetto by students of Janá ek and Schönberg, and former members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Concertgebouw (a concert hall in Amsterdam) and other orchestras. The
brightest stars of new Czech composition Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Hans Krása and Viktor Ullmann all were featured in our concert, performed by Anne Gilby, Eidit Golder and the A La Corda Quartet.
Music was not enough to help one survive though. If you were lucky enough to be in demand, then you could avoid resettlement (i.e. transport to Auschwitz), but by September 1944 this protection had evaporated and the vast majority of Terezín’s musicians were deported and murdered in the months of September and October.
In my discussions with survivors from Terezín here, in the UK, in Israel and the USA, I have
learnt one very important fact: music was an aspect that preserved the humanity for many
living in the appalling, conditions of the ghetto. Even if you weren’t a performer, music
provided an outlet, be it escape, hope, anger, and helped you process and adapt to the
conditions. It played a vital role for some in keeping their humanity alive, and it was the
preservation of that humanity that they carried throughout such terrible times, clinging to it, in order to remain sane.
Our concert was not just some missing link, providing the continuity in Jewish artistry and creativity in middle Europe. Nor was it a dry academic exercise, presenting an odd set of compositions that survived beyond all probability. Instead, it brought back to life the
humanity that existed in Terezín, against all odds. A humanity that we rarely think of when
considering life in the camps and ghettos, but a humanity that must have existed in order for our parents and grandparents, our uncles, aunts and cousins to have survived, to be able to build new lives and contribute so much of their own, rich musical culture to a place 12,000 miles away from the land of their birth.
This concert brought back to life the voices of the composers of Terezín. For the first time
in Australia, the Terezín polka sounded, forgotten by all except those interned in the camp, but notated by the sister of the composer who migrated to Tasmania after the war. The heritage of Czech Jewry lives in our Australian musical experience. Rudolf Pekarek, one-time
conductor of the Prague Radio Orchestra migrated to Australia with his wife after the war and
became the first conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and later the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Coco Schumann moved to Melbourne in 1950, where for four years he played successfully with Leo Rosner and his Gypsy Band. Karel An erl toured the Czech Philharmonic to Australia in the 1970s, to great acclaim. Hundreds of Czech survivors made their home in Australia, ordinary people who brought with them a love and devotion to music and the arts. This concert was dedicated to them and their memory and
also as a legacy to those who died, whose music carries a unique voice for future generations to hear.
Joseph Toltz is a professional singer and academic.
By David Amos
SAN DIEGO–Earlier this month we celebrated our Independence Day. My thoughts brought me to the importance of American music, and the shameful neglect we have allowed music education to be. Part of this was stimulated by an article in the editorial section of the San Diego Union-Tribune by John M. Eger, on July 8.
But first, let me share with you a sensitive, meaningful poem by an anonymous music teacher, circa, well….anytime:
WHY I TEACH MUSIC:
Not because I expect you to major in music.
Not because I expect you to play or sing all your life.
Not so you can relax or have fun.
So you will be human,
So you will recognize beauty,
So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world, So you will have something to cling to, So you will have more love, compassion, more gentleness,
More good….in short, more life!
Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living
Unless you know how to live?
On American and modern music: We have been conditioned to believe that if it is called “modern music”, or if the name of the composer is unknown to us, it is probably ugly and not worth our attention. Yes, there is a natural tendency to dislike the unknown, but in music, sadly, we do not even give it a chance to redeem itself. Even the late Karl Haas (from the enormously popular radio program “Adventures in Good Music”) told me that he sometimes received fan letters which warned him that if he as much as mentions the fact that he was about to play music from the Twentieth Century, the radio would be turned off immediately. This is tragic; it is cultural suicide.
I remember sadly an evening of music played by the San Diego Symphony, maybe fifteen years ago. In the first half was music by Robert Schumann, and after intermission, the conductor programmed the fabulous Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók. The latter is to me one of the greatest compositions ever. Period. You can imagine my disappointment, pain, and frustration to see more than half of the audience trampling its way to Symphony Hall’s exits, just to avoid listening to Bartók in the second half! In retrospect, the program order should have been reversed.
The fact is, that there is a vast amount of modern music, a lot of it composed by Americans, which is accessible, enjoyable, even at a first hearing, and very melodious. In other words, it is what I call “listener friendly”.
After being so involved with the subject of American orchestral music (I gave a lecture on the subject to the music faculty of Hebrew University in Jerusalem), I have had many a talk with musicians, critics, and music lovers. One salient fact stands out: The American public has an inferiority complex about its own music. We tend to believe that if it originated in Europe, it is probably better, and if it is from the U.S., it will be lacking in depth and lasting value. Only history will eventually resolve this, but I have noticed in my various travels and conversations that most natives from other countries support and proudly believe in their own heritage, whether it be historic or contemporary. Audiences and musicians alike enthusiastically program and attend concerts of their own composers in Canada, Poland, Denmark, England, Mexico, and the former Soviet republics. I am sure that it is the same in many other places; but don’t get me started on Israel!
Curiously, when I was invited to guest conduct in Lithuania in 1992, when working out the repertory to be performed at the concerts, I was politely asked to “please not bring any Copland, Gershwin, or Bernstein”. At first, I was surprised and a bit annoyed, already thinking of several hidden implications from that request. But after directly asking the director of the Lithuanian Philharmonic as to “why”, the answer was surprising: “We don’t want you to bring us music from these composers, because we program them too frequently, and they are very popular here. We want you to bring to us some different American music”. So, I brought them Paul Creston, Alan Hovhaness, Norman Dello-Joio, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Ernest Bloch. After the fact, the musicians told me how much they enjoyed playing the music of these composers, and the audiences seemed responsive and enthusiastic, in both Vilnius and Kaunas.
As an aside, I was told by a cellist of the Vilnius orchestra, “We are glad that you brought us the music of Bloch. During the Soviet regime, we were not allowed to perform his music, just because he was Jewish”. He also proudly showed me a printed program for later in the month, where he was performing Bloch’s Schelomo, the Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra.
Getting back to our American heritage, it is best to quote the words and spirit of one of our greatest composers, Charles Ives. He not only preached, but practiced the concept of “Wake up, America! The culture and traditions of Europe are fine, but stand up, support, and enjoy your own wonderful music”.
I fully endorse that. Let us strive to discover and enjoy totally unknown and lesser known treasures of our past and present. Be careful, you may enjoy what you hear.
Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and a guest conductor of professional orchestras around the world
(WJC)–The European Jewish Congress (EJC) has called on the European Union and European governments to immediately ban the Turkish group IHH, which led one of the six Gaza Flotilla ships, and similar groups. “Organizations affiliated with and used as a front for terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaeda have to be outlawed with immediate effect,” said EJC President Moshe Kantor in a statement.
According to a report issued in 2006 by the Danish Institute for International Studies, the IHH maintained links with al-Qaida and a number of “global jihad networks.” The report also said that the Turkish government had launched an investigation into the IHH which began in December 1997 after receiving intelligence that the IHH had bought automatic weapons from Islamist terrorists. Following the revelation, the Turkish government launched a raid on the organization’s Istanbul offices, where they found weapons, explosives, and instructions for bomb-making. The report added that an examination of documents found at the IHH office indicated that the group was planning to take part in terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Bosnia.
According to the study, a French intelligence report found that in the mid-1990s IHH leader Bülent Yildirim recruited soldiers for jihad [Muslim Holy War] activities in a number of Islamic countries, and that the IHH transferred money, firearms, and explosives to jihadists in said countries. “It is evident that the IHH has been an organization long associated with terror and global Jihad” Kantor continued. “Such organizations need to be immediately exposed so Europeans will not be deceived into believing that they are a legitimate humanitarian organization.”
It had become clear that this flotilla did not have a humanitarian goal when its organizers rejected repeated calls to pass their aid through Egypt or Israel, the EJC said in a statement.
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director issued the following statement:
Preceding provided by the Anti-Defamation League
By Shoshana Bryen
WASHINGTON, D.C — The U.S. Department of the Army put out a request for information on “Afghanistan National Army Air Corps English and Pilot Training.”
The Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training & Instrumentation (PEO STRI) is conducting market research by seeking sources with innovative business solutions to (1) train and certify up to 67 Afghani student pilots to an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) English level 4 in the English language; and (2) provide basic rotary wing or fixed wing Commercial Pilot Training to the European Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) standards.
It is desired that the English language and basic pilot training take place within South West Asia. PEO STRI requests information on sources available to perform training in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, U.A.E, Uzbekistan, Yemen or other locations in Southwest Asia with the capability to provide requested training.
How is it possible that Syria, a charter and current member of the U.S. State Department list of terrorism-supporting countries, is considered an acceptable place to train Afghan pilots? Or Lebanon, which has Hezbollah as a member of the governing cabinet in Beirut? Hezbollah is a charter and current member of the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations, and until September 11, 2001, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. Didn’t Kyrgyzstan just have a coup inspired/financed by Russia? Wouldn’t training pro-Western Afghan pilots in Pakistan send those people from the frying pan into the fire? Isn’t Yemen home to some of the most virulently anti-American, anti-Western al Qaeda operatives and preachers, including Anwar al-Awlakiwho was talking to U.S. Army Major Nidal Hassan before he killed 13 Americans at Ft. Hood?
Aside from the fact that some of the countries listed are not in South West Asia, as the request for information requires, not one is remotely democratic. OK, we’ll give Jordan a few points and some to Iraq, but that’s it.
What would possess the United States Army to expose Afghani pilots, who are supposed to secure a functional and consensual state in Afghanistan, to countries where the governments are almost uniformly totalitarian, functionally repressive, less than hospitable to reform or dissent, and have women in positions of legal inferiority? Saudi Arabia is the financier of a particularly repressive, homophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic form of Islam exported around the world.
We did not expect to see Israel on the list, although Israel certainly is capable of training pilots to the European Joint Aviation Authority standards, and a few months in Israel would impart some Western governmental, judicial and social norms, including religious and political tolerance.
But if not Israel, why not Britain or Italy or France or Spain or Portugal? Why not Denmark or Colombia or Mali or Uruguay? Why not India or Indonesia or Taiwan or Japan?
The list is clearly weighted toward the part of the world to which President Obama wishes to show American comity. Unfortunately, it is also a part of the world in which neither American policies nor American values are particularly welcome items on the agenda. The list and the thinking behind it are political mistakes that should be corrected. Certainly, they should be corrected before we give the Afghanis the idea that the norms of Syria and Lebanon are ones we want them to adopt.
Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member