A full and vibrant culture, which had been permitted by the Nazis as grist for their propaganda campaign, blinked into existence and then was extinguished. The Terezín Music Foundation (TMF), a non-profit that recognizes Terezín’s artists who perished during the Holocaust, has produced a multimedia musical concert that will delve into the lives of five composers, each incarcerated during World War II, whose works provided consolation amid the horrors of imprisonment and the Third Reich.
The event will take place at Boston’s Symphony Hall on October 15, with a reception beginning at 3 pm followed by a concert at 4 pm. It will be narrated by WGBH’s Greater Boston co-host Jim Braude. Dubbed “Do Not Forget Me,” the presentation will feature a mix of musical performances by Charity Tillemann-Dick, the granddaughter of the late Tom Lantos, who was only Holocaust survivor to serve in the U.S. Congress, tenor Francis Rogers, members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Children’s Chorus. The evening will also feature Holocaust survivors Ela Weissberger and Brookline’s Michael Gruenbaum. They were child performers in an infamous Nazi propaganda film produced in Terezín.
Performances will be accompanied by an array of historical material—artworks, photographs, and film—depicting the rich, cultural activity at the heart of Terezín. TMF Executive Director Mark Ludwig, who for decades has worked to bring the music out of the ashes of history with the aid of a Fulbright grant, said besides honoring the deceased artists, the event will offer timely insight into contemporary issues associated with human rights, such as immigration and the plight of refugees.
“The event operates on several levels, all reflecting the different programs of the foundation,” said Ludwig. “It’s an hour and a half long program that takes you through the personal histories of these people, and how their lives weave into their creativity. But we’re also asking: where does it have its connection to today? The immigrant refugee song, which we’re going to perform—when you listen to the text, it resonates with issues we face today.”
The Terezín concentration camp was not a death camp, but a collection point for Jewish people in Germany and the occupied lands in central and Western Europe. The five notable artists imprisoned at the camp who will be memorialized at the event include Ilsa Weber, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Hans Krasa. Ludwig said the people would risk their lives to smuggle in musical instruments, which Jewish people were not allowed to own under German occupation.
Composer Hans Krasa, who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, is most famous for having authored the children’s opera Brundibár, which was part of the propaganda film the Nazis used to convince International Red Cross observers of their benevolence. The opera and other musical creations were so popular within the camp that, according to Ludwig, many would barter rations to attend a program or concert.
“Some of the great intellectual minds of Europe were being sent to Terezín,” Ludwig said. “You had within the walls of this camp a huge reservoir of talent. Amid such uncertainty and death, there was a determination to create. It’s going to be great to put their faces on the stage of Symphony Hall.”
Altogether, some 140,000 Jewish people were deported to Terezín. 33,000 died there, and 88,000 were exported to extermination camps.
Founded in 1991, TMF, with Ludwig at its helm, has sought to research and publicize the music of the Terezín concentration camp. The organization sponsored a musical performance at the sold-out Coolidge Corner Theatre screenings of Soul Witness, The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project. It is committed to supporting the works of emerging composers to “help realize the lost artists’ role as mentors and to create a living memorial to them and to all artists whose voices are silenced.”
TMF will also award Khizr Khan, a Muslim-American most famous for his impassioned speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, with the 2017 Terezín Legacy Award. During his speech, Khan discussed the death of his son and offered President Donald Trump a copy of the Constitution.
Limited tickets are still available for the TMF Gala, “Do Not Forget Me”.