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Words, Music, Memory (Re)presenting Voices of the Holocaust

Introduction

Words, Music, Memory: (Re)presenting Voices of the Holocaust, is a ten-panel traveling exhibit created by the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University. While the exhibit focuses on words written by people who experienced the Holocaust — some who perished, and others who survived —this digital gallery guide highlights the links along the chain of commemoration that connect the past and the present and generation to generation.

Each section of the gallery guide begins with a brief biographical sketch of the writer along with a concept sketch by the illustrator whose work appears on the corresponding exhibit panel.

Each section then goes on to feature a particular commemorative trajectory from witness, to preservation, to interpretation, to performance, to appreciation. The human actors and affirmative acts along this trajectory are described and given opportunities for reflection. Excerpts from creative works are made available for you to enjoy.

We invite you to engage with questions for consideration along the way. At the end, we also offer suggestions for you to find your voice and add your own link in the chain that keeps memory alive.

Top image: Sheet music for "Khayele's Waltz" by Laurence Sherr, courtesy Laurence Sherr

Image across: Outdoor performance to inaugurate the new Holocaust History Museum at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial, 2006. Courtesy NBC News

I always thought that beauty in art would help save the world; and I continue to be driven by one piece of Jewish philosophy that I picked up: “Tikkun Olam,” and that is that people on earth can repair the world. My belief is that everybody has a unique gift. It took me a while to discover what my gift was, which is to compose art songs. I am always driven by a desire to add beauty to the world. I hope my music touches people, and I feel that’s my small contribution.

~ Composer Lori Laitman, interviewed by Serdar Ilban, 2008

Image: Laitman with Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair and French-American cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton at the premier of her composition "Todesfuge" on February 21, 2012, at the Austrian Cultural Center. Composer David Leisner stands beside Laitman on stage.

I am interested in the compositional and performance devices that both underpin the power of words to bear witness to lived experience and ensure the process of musical commemoration as an act of historical preservation.

~ Soprano Sheena Ramirez, Dissertation Proposal, 2021

Image: Sheet music for "Yid du partizaner" arranged by Laurence Sherr for Sheena Ramirez to sing in September 2021

[Holocaust composition] connected me with my family history. It connected me with the culture of my ancestry. It connected me with the Klezmer music and the cantorial music I heard growing up. So all of that came together.

~ Composer Laurence Sherr, interview with Adina Langer, 2021.

Image: Oy Klezmer! band featuring Jerry Fields, drums; Susan Clearman, accordion; Chip Epstein, violin; L.A. Tuten, tuba; and Laurence Sherr, clarinet, ca. 1990s. Courtesy KSU Archives and Special Collections

The visual arts are an important form of commemorative interpretation. The MHHE commissioned two illustrators, Julia Guevara, and Martha Hemingway, to create portraits of the writers featured in the Words, Music, Memory exhibit. Their final illustrations appear on the exhibit panels, and concept sketches appear in this gallery guide.
When brainstorming ideas for this project, I made it my main goal to let the personalities of each writer shine through in the portraits. Rather than focusing on their hardships, I painted with the intent of honoring the beauty and art they created for others. I incorporated bright colors into the works as a reminder that the Holocaust wasn’t as long ago as it may seem. These were real people with real stories, and it’s up to us to keep their legacy going.

~ Artist Julia Guevara, 2021, James Madison University Class of 2024

The emotional landscapes offered through the words of each of these authors are hauntingly poignant. I was especially moved by how these passages from Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, Eva Heyman, Shmerke Kaczerginski, and Elie Wiesel acknowledge an aspect of internal visualization in response to trauma. The repetition of dreaming, imagining, yearning, remembering - forming, even briefly, a realm of sanctuary behind closed eyelids, yet reliving viewed moments too horrible to forget - is a common thread throughout this writing, and the deepest humanness itself. Through color, softness, layering, and light, I hoped to pay homage to each of these individuals with illustrations that contain elements of internalized space; the haziness occupied by thoughts, portraits of the gossamer pieces of these very real experiences.

~ Artist Martha Hemingway, 2021, James Madison University Class of 2019

Franta Bass

Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), in 1930, František Bass was known as Franta to his friends and family. After the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, they established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939. Two years later, they created Theresienstadt in the fortress town of Terezín, north of Prague.

Theresienstadt was both a ghetto, intended to mislead the international community through the incarceration of prominent European Jews, and a transit camp that served as a waystation to extermination camps established in the German-occupied territories in the east. Franta Bass and his family were among the first Jews transported to Theresienstadt in 1941.

Conditions in Theresienstadt were purposefully brutal, but Jewish cultural life also thrived under the leadership of dedicated artists and educators. Franta Bass was among 15,000 children who lived in Theresienstadt during the years of its existence (99.5% of whom would perish after deportation). Although education was not allowed officially, teachers taught children secretly and encouraged them to create magazines and draw pictures.

Franta Bass wrote poetry in a diary which survived the war. His four surviving poems carried themes of longing and resilient personal identity. Bass was deported to Auschwitz with his family on the last transport that left Theresienstadt in October 1944. He was murdered there on October 28 at the age of 14.

His poems were published, along with other children's writings and drawings, in the Czech anthology I Never Saw Another Butterfly, in 1959. A second edition, translated into English, came out in 1994.

Franta Bass, ca. 1942. Courtesy PoetryLesson.Wordpress.com

Image: Concept sketch for Franta Bass illustration by Julia Guevara, 2021.

One of the most prolific children's magazines in Theresienstadt was Vedem created by the boys of Home One (L417). Vedem included poems, drawings, and satirical articles by 92 boys including Petr Ginz and Hanus Hachenburg. In 2010, four of the boys who wrote for Vedem were able to attend the premier of an oratorio by Lori Laitman. The oratorio was commissioned by Music of Remembrance, a Seattle-based organization committed to remembering the Holocaust through music. Vedem has also inspired museum exhibits, such as Vedem Underground and a play with music called "The Last Boy."

Image: Cover for Vedem magazine 44-5. Courtesy Terezín Memorial Museum

I Am a Jew

by Franta Bass, ca. 1942

I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever.
Even if I should die from hunger,
never will I submit.
I will always fight for my people,
on my honor.
I will never be ashamed of them,
I give my word.
I am proud of my people,
how dignified they are.
Even though I am suppressed,
I will always come back to life.

Image: Title page, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, edited by Hana Volavkova, New York: Schocken Books, 1994.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

This collection of children's drawings and poems from Terezín Concentration Camp/Theresienstadt Ghetto spans the years 1942 – 1944. It was compiled by Czech art historian Hana Volavková (1904 – 1985). Volavková, a Jewish woman, had been commissioned in 1943 by the occupation government in Czechosolovakia to build a museum of liturgical objects, books, and other artifacts collected from Jewish communities in the occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Volavková worked to create the Central Jewish Museum in Prague until she was deported to Terezín in February 1945.

Volavková was the only member of the professional staff of the Central Jewish Museum to survive the war and became the first post-war director of the Jewish Museum. Working under difficult conditions during the Communist era, Volavková managed to preserve the museum and promote public awareness of its collections, including a group of children's drawings from Terezín that were created under the supervision of Austrian art educator Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who smuggled the artworks out of the ghetto in suitcases.

Collected and compiled by Volavková, I Never Saw Another Butterfly was first published in Czech in 1959. In it, poems are paired with drawings, and the fate of the authors and illustrators is shared where known.

The publication inspired composers and playwrights to create commemorative works based on the included texts and images. Among those works are a play by Celese Raspanti, song cycles by Srul Glick and Lori Laitman, and a choral work by Charles Davidson.

Image: "On A Sunny Evening" page from I Never Saw Another Butterfly, edited by Hana Volavková, New York: Schocken Books, 1994.

Engage

Watch "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" for children's chorus by Charles Davidson:

Watch "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" song cycle by Lori Laitman:

After watching these performances, consider the following questions:

  1. How does the setting for children's chorus differ from the setting for solo soprano?
  2. What role do the performers play in the emotions you feel when hearing the words?
  3. How would you interpret the poetry and art of "I Never Saw Another Butterfly?"

Image: "Airing mattresses in the garden" by Irena Karplusová (1930-1944) during the drawing classes in the Terezín Ghetto organized between 1943 and 1944 by the painter and teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (Jewish Museum in Prague) Courtesy Times of Israel

Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger

Born in Czernowitz, Bukovina, Romania, in 1921, Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger began writing poetry as a teenager. She dedicated most of her poems to her boyfriend, Leiser Fichman.

Sent to the ghetto in October 1941, Selma continued to write poetry until she and her parents were deported to Transnistria in June of 1942. She gave her boyfriend a notebook containing 52 poems and five translations which he managed to keep with him during his incarceration in a forced labor camp. Selma died of typhus at Michailowka labor camp on December 16, 1942.

Lori Laitman, the composer who set Selma's poems to music, wrote in 2021,

"It's amazing that her poetry survived at all."

Before his death aboard the Mefkure ship bound for Palestine in 1944, Leiser sent the book of poetry to Selma's friend Else in Czernowitz. It was preserved by Selma's friends and family and ultimately published as Harvest of Blossoms in 2008.

In 2013, composer Lori Laitman was commissioned by Music of Remembrance to create a song cycle based on Selma's poetry. The haunting title “In Sleep, the World Is Yours" is drawn from an evocative line in one of the poems.

Selma (right) with Else Schacter in Czernowitz, 1940. Courtesy Yad Vashem

Image: Concept sketch for illustration of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger by Martha Hemingway, 2021.

"Tragedy"

~ Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, December 23, 1941

The heaviest weight of all: to see
that no one needs me,
to know, to think,
I'll fade into nothingness like smoke

Image: "Tragedy" manuscript by Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, 1941. Courtesy Yad Vashem

Interview with Composer Lori Laitman

Sheena Ramirez and Adina Langer interviewed Lori Laitman in June 2021.

What has drawn you to composing vocal music on the subject of the Holocaust?

My journey in setting poetry related to the Holocaust began in 1995 when soprano Lauren Wagner asked me to compose a song cycle using the poetry from the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The poems were by children who had been incarcerated in the Terezín Concentration Camp, who later perished. I was very drawn to the poems — amazed by the sense of hope that pervaded many of the works, as well as the brutal honesty.
For each Holocaust-themed cycle I have composed, I read a lot of poetry, searching for poems that I connect with emotionally, and that I think could be suited to a musical “translation.” When making final choices for a cycle, I also consider which poems might be juxtaposed in order to create a compelling dramatic arc.

What is your role in interpreting the words of Holocaust victims, and what compositional devices do you use to most truly and meaningfully communicate and give voice to the poets and writers of your chosen texts?

My role is to tell a story through music and to share the story of those who were silenced. I approach the Holocaust poetry in the way I approach any poem or text. My goal is to create dramatic music to illuminate and magnify the meaning of the words. I compose the vocal line first and let the words guide me towards creating the proper structure to house the words. After figuring out which rhythms best suit the words to honor the natural stresses, I then custom craft the melody and emphasize what I believe to be the most important words in a phrase. This in turn allows the singer to most effectively communicate the words to an audience. All other aspects of the music — texture, timbre, harmonies, rhythm, etc. are inspired by the words and are meant toward providing additional commentary on the text. I also often use the technique of “word painting” — creating miniature aural portraits to illustrate the meanings of the words.

Can you share the story of composing “In Sleep the World is Yours?”

This piece was commissioned by Music of Remembrance, specifically to set the poetry of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger. What I found inspiring about Selma’s poetry was that she was able to speak the truth in simple but clear poetic language.
Although, at first, I was concerned about the simplicity of the poetry, I soon realized the depth of feeling beneath the works. When choosing poetry, I look for words that an audience can grasp aurally — but also for an underlying complexity, which provides me with opportunities for creating dramatic music to illuminate the text. In this respect, Selma’s poems were perfect.
It was amazing that her poetry survived at all. A talented writer, she began writing poetry at age 15. In 1942 at age 18, Selma died of typhus in a Ukrainian labor camp. Thanks to the dedication and love of her friends, and later her distant relatives, her poetry survived. The poems were translated by Jerry Glenn and Florian Birkmayer, in conjunction with Selma’s relatives Helene and Irene Silverblatt. Irene traveled to Seattle for the premiere and it was wonderful to meet her and her family.

What was your favorite musical moment in your setting of Lullaby?

The lilting quality of the accompaniment which immediately suggests a lullaby, and the various word paintings: i.e., “fall” in m. 5, m. 39; the harmonic change to minor in m. 102 to accompany the word “dark”; and the dissonance of the oboe at the end.

Described by Fanfare Magazine as “one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers,” Lori Laitman has composed multiple operas and choral works, and hundreds of songs, setting texts by classical and contemporary poets, including those who perished in the Holocaust. Her music has generated substantial critical acclaim. The Journal of Singing wrote “It is difficult to think of anyone before the public today who equals her exceptional gifts for embracing a poetic text and giving it new and deeper life through music.” For more information, please visit artsongs.com.

Image: Lori Laitman, courtesy of the composer

Engage

Watch the premiere of "In Sleep the World is Yours" at Music of Remembrance’s Holocaust Remembrance Day concert on May 12, 2014. Megan Chenovick, soprano; Benjamin Hausmann, oboe; Mina Miller, piano

Watch Sheena Ramirez's performance of "In Sleep the World is Yours" at James Madison University on December 7, 2019. Sheena Ramirez, soprano; Jeanette Zyko, oboe; Kathryn Schmidt, piano.

After watching these performances, consider the following questions:

  1. How does the setting of poetry for voice and instruments impact how you experience it?
  2. What role do the performers play in interpreting the music?
  3. What role do musicians play in perpetuating Holocaust memory?
  4. How might you choose to share Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger's poetry?

Image: Premier of "In Sleep the World is Yours," courtesy Music of Remembrance

Anne Frank

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1929, Anne's family fled in 1933, after Hitler came to power. The family settled in Amsterdam and lived there comfortably until the Nazi invasion in 1940.

Anne received a diary for her thirteenth birthday on June 12, 1942, and then went into hiding with her family on July 6, less than a month later. She hid with seven other people in an apartment behind her father's office until the Dutch Gestapo raided the "secret annex" on August 4, 1944.

After spending a month in Westerbork Transit Camp, Anne was transported to Auschwitz in September, and then Bergen-Belsen in late October. She died there, along with her sister, Margot, in February or March of 1945.

Anne's father, Otto, survived Auschwitz. He returned to Amsterdam in 1945, and after he learned of the death of his daughters, he was given Anne's diary by Miep Gies, one of his trusted employees who had helped the families hiding in the Secret Annex.

First published in Dutch in 1947, Anne's diary has since been translated into more than 70 languages. It has also been adapted as a play, a feature film, an opera, and a musical theater piece. This gallery guide will focus on the animated film adaptation authorized by the Anne Frank Fonds, Basil (the foundation entrusted with the Frank estate), and first released in 1995. It will also include an interview with Wendy Kesselman, the playwright who adapted the Diary of Anne Frank play in 1997 based on the publication of the new definitive edition of the text.

A school photo of Anne from the Jewish Lyceum, December 1941. Photo collection: Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam

Image: Concept sketch for Anne Frank illustration by Julia Guevara, 2021.

Selection from Anne's Diary

Saturday, July 15, 1944:

It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!

Image: Anne Frank surrounded by pages from her diary, illustration by Leonel Warren for Anne Frank in Translation, 2020.

Anne No Nikki

The story of Anne No Nikki illustrates the circuitous path that creative adaptions of historical works can take.

In the early 1990s, Rironsha Ltd. of Tokyo approached the Anne Frank Fonds to acquire rights to produce an animated film version of Anne Frank's diary.

The result, Anne No Nikki, premiered in Japan in August 1995. Produced by Madhouse, the film was directed by Akinori Nagaoka and written by Hachirō Konno and Roger Parbes. Three years later, Stephane Dykman of Globe Trotter Network SA informed the Anne Frank Fonds that his company had acquired the rights to the film. A French-language version was then created and released in France with optional English subtitles.

More than a decade would pass before the two versions of the film would be made available to English-speaking audiences in the United States. In 2020, both the Japanese version of the film with English subtitles, and an English-dubbed version of the French film were released on YouTube for free.

Aside from having different voice actors, the two version of the film also had different composers of the background score. The soundtrack for the original film was composed by Michael Nyman while the French and English version of the film were composed by Carrine H.D. Gutlerner.

Buddy Elias, Anne Frank's cousin and president of the Anne Frank Fonds in the 1990s said of the film,

The Film has moved me and I want to congratulate you for the high standard and sensibility in producing this film. I am sure it will be successful not only with the young audiences, but also for the elder generations. Anne Frank would have loved your adaptation!

Yet, after Elias's passing, his successors at the Anne Frank Fonds discovered little documentation about the production of the film.

The initial contacts and negotiations took place back in the 1990s. Our then President handled the matter, he has since passed away and there is very little documentation left.

Upon viewing the French version of the film, historian Annette Wievorka said in L'EVENEMENT,

The animation is superb, the settings exquisite. It is true to life. The director documented his research, worked on the basis of photographs. It is a true setting of the time. It made me want to go to Amsterdam. The tone of the Diary isn’t hopeless. Anne Frank is neither a view of the camps or of destruction. We know the family will die so there is great underlying emotion as we watch but the dialogue is full of humanity. I prefer this movie to Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful.

Image: Still from Anne No Nikki, 1995.

Interview with Wendy Kesselman

On June 25, 2021, MHHE curator Adina Langer interviewed playwright Wendy Kesselman about her experience adapting the 1955 play The Diary of Anne Frank for its revival in 1997. The adaptation was based on new material released as a part of the definitive edition of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, published that same year.

What process did you go through in creating the new adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank?

James Lapine asked me to work on productions in Boston and on Broadway in New York City, and I said "yes" right away. When he sent me the original play, I could see that it had very different bookends from what I wanted it to be. It needed a major revision.
The process of revision continued as we workshopped the play with the actors. I watched Linda Lavin and Natalie Portman weep on stage. The original version began with a voiceover of Anne saying "I want to go on living even after death." Natalie didn't want to say the words out loud, but I felt that it was important for her to do so, and that proved especially successful in the play.

What perspective did you bring to the project?

I never think about the audience. I only think about how best to tell the story. It's always the truth that you try to find in writing — the pain and the joy. Even though the play is dependent on the audience, I try to write for the story, not for its effect on the audience.

Kesselman described her experience of going to Amsterdam and Westerbork, guided by Dienke Hondius of the Anne Frank House.

Everything gets into the writing. I saw so much.

What special quality did you feel that Natalie Portman brought to the role of Anne?

I loved Natalie Portman as Anne. I've seen fine actors who capture Anne's vivacity, intelligence, spontaneity, and excitement, but not her vulnerability. Natalie was the right age, and she brought vulnerability to the role.

Why is music important in theater?

I'm also a composer, so I understand how important music can be. When I met [Anne's cousin] Buddy Elias and his wife, Gerte, in New York, they shared the song that propelled Otto Frank to leave Germany — it was called the Sturmsoldaten —and I had to put it in the play. The first line can be translated as "When Jewish Blood Sprouts from the Knife." Many survivors recall it being sung by members of the Hitler Youth on Kristallnacht.

What do you think of the original Diary of Anne Frank movie?

I hate that movie. They took Anne's famous line, "I still believe people are good at heart" entirely out of context. I had to change it in my version of the play. I had to juxtapose the line with the police shouting "Raus" at the end of the play. Alvin Rosenfeld agreed with me, declaring that the Jewish community would only financially support the production of the play if they used my version.

Why do you think it's important to commemorate the Holocaust, and what role do you think personal narratives, including Anne Frank's diary, play in the process?

My answer is tears. You have to. You just have to. There will never be enough. It has to be done.

Image: Rachel Miner, George Hearn and Natalie Portman in the 1997 production of The Diary of Anne Frank;  Photo by Joan Marcus. Courtesy Playbil.com

Engage

Watch the 1995 Japanese version of Anne No Nikki with English subtitles here:

Watch the English dubbed version of the French version of the film released in 2020 here:

After watching the two versions of the film, consider the following questions:

  1. What is the impact of the animation style on your experience of the story?
  2. How does the difference in language (subtitles vs. dubbing) affect your experience?
  3. What do you think about the different musical scores for the two versions? Why do you think the productions companies may have made the choice to commission a new score for the second version?
  4. Do you think the animated film is a successful adaptation of Anne Frank's story?
  5. How might you adapt Anne Frank's story?

Image: Still from Anne No Nikki, Courtesy Madhouse

Eva Heyman

Born on February 13, 1931, in Oradea, a city on the border between Romania and Hungary, Éva Heyman lived with her grandparents after her parents divorced in 1933.

Éva's grandfather owned a pharmacy in Oradea, and Éva enjoyed life in the integrated city where one fifth of the population was Jewish. She was given a diary as a gift for her thirteenth birthday.

After the Germans invaded Hungary, it took some time for them to make their presence felt everywhere. They arrived in Budapest on March 19, 1944. Six weeks later, they came to Oradea and ordered Éva and her grandparents to move to the ghetto where they were housed with many other families in a shabby apartment at 20 Szacsat Street. They learned they would be "resettled in the East" on May 29, 1944.

Éva was deported to Auschwitz in June 1944 and died there four months later, on October 17, 1944, at the age of 13.

Éva's mother, Agnes Zsolt, survived the war and found Éva's diary in Oradea in 1945. It was published as The Diary of Éva Heyman by Shapolsky Publishers in 1988, edited by Agnes Zsolt, and translated by Moshe M. Kohn.

Éva Heyman, aged 13, in Hungary a few months before she was murdered in a gas chamber, 1944. Courtesy Yad Vashem

Image: Concept sketch for Éva Heyman illustration by Martha Hemingway.

Credit: This section was created with research assistance from MHHE intern Celia Clark

Excerpt from Eva Heyman's Diary

April 7, 1944:

"Today they came for my bicycle. I almost caused a big drama. You know, dear diary, I was awfully afraid just by the fact that the policemen came into the house. I know that policemen bring only trouble with them, wherever they go [...] So, dear diary, I threw myself on the ground, held on to the back wheel of my bicycle, and shouted all sorts of things at the policemen: 'Shame on you for taking away a bicycle from a girl! That's robbery!' We had saved up for a year and a half to buy the bicycle [...] One of the policemen was very annoyed and said: 'All we need is for a Jewgirl to put on such a comedy when her bicycle is being taken away. No Jewkid is entitled to keep a bicycle anymore. The Jews aren't entitled to bread, either; they shouldn't guzzle everything, but leave the food for the soldiers.' You can imagine, dear diary, how I felt when they were saying this to my face."

Excerpt from the The Diary of Éva Heyman. Image: Still from Eva.Stories, courtesy Instagram

Eva.Stories

In 2018, Israeli high-tech billionaire Mati Kochavi and his daughter, Maya, asked, "What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram?" The idea for Eva.Stories was born.

The Kochavis were motivated to create the show because of "those who think the Holocaust is fake news." After considering thirty different diaries, they selected Éva Heyman because they felt that teenagers in Israel, the United States, and the U.K. could relate to her modern style.

With a production budget of about four million dollars, the Kochavis shot seventy short episodes in Lviv, Ukraine, after selecting it as a modern location for Éva's Oradea. Filming took three weeks, and episodes were partially shot using phone cameras. The Kochavis hired British actors to play the main roles in the film as well as Ukranian extras for the scene of the German invasion.

After its premier on Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2019, Eva.Stories now has more than 1.7 million Instagram followers. Although some Israelis found the production sensationalist and accused the Kochavis of "trivializing and cheapening" the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Center, responded by calling social media "legitimate and effective" for Holocaust commemoration. The project also won a prestigious 2020 Webby award in the category of "social" and "best use of stories."

Twelve-year-old actor Mia Quiney has received fan-mail from numerous teenagers who told her that her performance as Éva Heyman helped them understand what their grandparents went through during the Holocaust.

Image: Promotional image for Eva.Stories. A similar image appeared on a billboard in Tel Aviv, 2019. Courtesy New York Times

Interview with Mia Quiney

Adina Langer interviewed Mia Quiney via email in June 2021.

When/how did you first learn about the Eva.Stories project?

I first learned about the Eva.Stories project when I got sent the casting information from my agent. There wasn't that much information with it at that stage, so I didn't know exactly what the project was going to be like, I just knew it was an educational film for Holocaust Memorial day. When I read the piece of script, that I had to learn for the audition, I felt an instant connection to the character, I felt that me and Éva would definitely have been friends if we had ever met, and I knew that I wanted the role.

What appealed to you about the project? What made you decide to try out for the role of Eva Heyman?

I'd read Anne Frank's diary and loved the idea of being able to tell a similar story and I loved the fact that the project was being made to educate people. We had just been studying the Holocaust in our history lessons at school and I thought watching a film about it would be a great way of learning. At this point I had no idea that the film was to be the 1st of its kind and shown on Instagram, I thought it was a film that would be watched in schools as part of lessons. When I found out about Instagram I thought it was an amazing idea because most children my age had the app and I knew it would be a great way of reaching them.

What did you think about when deciding how you wanted to portray Éva? What were you hoping to emphasize?

When I was deciding how to play the role of Éva I really wanted to make sure I was relatable and honest, I wanted to show the different emotions that Éva experienced so that the viewer would be able to relate to her, like I did. The best way I could do this was to play Éva as if it was actually me going through all the experiences that she had to go through. It felt quite natural to be honest, because of the connection I felt with her.

What did you find most challenging about the project?

The most challenging part of filming the project was the realness of it all. When we were in costume and on set I didn't feel like I was me anymore, I felt like I was Éva actually experiencing the horrific things she had to go through. Obviously what I experienced wasn't even a fraction of how horrific it actually was for Éva, and all the millions like her, and that's what made it so frightening. I got to come out of character at the end of the day but Éva didn't. I also felt the importance of honoring Éva and doing her story justice.

Why do you think it's important for people to commemorate the Holocaust?

I think its really important that people commemorate the holocaust to stop anything like this from happening again. There aren't that many survivors left anymore so their stories need to be told and passed on. People need to hear these stories so that they never get forgotten.

What role do you think that performers, like you, can play in helping people remember historical figures, especially those who were killed in terrible circumstances?

I think actors playing roles like Éva's have an important job to do. I think its really essential that these roles are played accurately and honestly so that they raise awareness, educate and stick in people's minds.

Image: Mia Quiney, 2021, courtesy Kim Grant of Bruce and Brown Agency

Engage

Watch the trailer for Eva.Stories here:

Click here to watch Eva.Stories on Instagram:

After watching Eva.Stories, consider the following questions:

  1. What do you think of Éva Heyman’s introduction? Is she like other teenagers you know?
  2. How do the creators of Eva.Stories use music? What role does Josephine Baker play?
  3. What moment in Eva.Stories impacted you the most?
  4. Does Eva.Stories succeed in conveying Éva and her story?
  5. How would you adapt Éva Heyman's story?

Image: Eva.Stories billboard in Tel Aviv, Israel. Courtesy New York Times.

Krystyna Zywulska

Born as Sonia Landau on September 1, 1914, in Łódź, Poland, Krystyna was relocated with her family to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. Rather than waiting to die of starvation or be deported to a concentration camp, she risked boldly walking out of the ghetto along with her mother in August 1942. On the "Aryan" side, she assumed her first false identity of Zofia Wisniewska and joined the Polish resistance as a counterfeiter.

In August 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo and assumed the new identity of Krystyna Zywulska during her interrogation. She was deported to Auschwitz as a political prisoner and kept her Jewish identity hidden for more than twenty years, revealing it only when she published Pusta Woda (Empty Water), about her escape from Warsaw, in 1963.

While in Auschwitz, Krystyna created lyrics in her head during roll calls and taught them to fellow inmates. One of her poems, Apel was so well-liked by a more powerful prisoner that she helped Krystyna obtain a work-transfer to the Effektenkammer at Birkenau in February 1944. There, Krystyna sorted through the personal effects of newly arriving prisoners. Although she and her co-workers were protected from the worst depravations of camp life, they bore witness to the daily mass killings which took place in the adjacent crematorium.

Krystyna wrote and performed more than eight poems and songs prior to her escape from a death march on January 18, 1945. A form of resistance, Krystyna's works inspired others with their satirical messages and celebration of the will to live.

Immediately after the war, Krystyna published her memoir I Survived Auschwitz in 1946. Krystyna remained in Poland, married, and had two sons. She continued to publish satire and songs, until her death in Düsseldorf, where she had moved to be near her sons, on August 1, 1992.

Krystyna Zywulska, ca. 1930s. Courtesy HolocaustMusic.org
Krystyna Zywulska, ca. 1970s. Courtesy tchu.com

Image: Concept sketch for Krystyna Zywulska illustration by Julia Guevara, 2021

Excerpt from Krystyna Zywulska's Memoir

Chapter Eight: Convalescence, 1944

The block-senior of the hospital announced that we were to be deloused. A new menace hung over our heads. De-lousing meant they would take the blankets away. That meant we would be cold, God knew for how long, and that they could make us go to the sauna-- naked. We knew that delousing was a pretext. The epidemic must have killed too few of us. Aryans were not gassed any longer. Something had to be done so that there would be a greater harvest, something that could be called humanitarian. There were always more lice after the delousing.

Image: Cover of I Survived Auschwitz by Krystyna Zywulska, First published 1946, 2004 edition.

"Out of Darkness: Two Remain"

In 2012, composer Jake Heggie was commissioned by Music of Remembrance to produce a one-act opera based on the life and works of Krystyna Zywulska. "Another Sunrise" was created with lyricist Gene Scheer and explored the theme of survival and the psychological trauma of assuming a false identity in order to "see another sunrise."

Five years earlier, Music of Remembrance had commissioned Heggie and Scheer to produce their first commemorative one-act opera based on the life of Gad Beck and his relationship with poet Manfred Lewin. "For a Look or a Touch" commemorated the oppression and resistance of Germany's homosexual community during the Nazi regime and used the documentary film Paragraph 175 as an additional source.

Commissioner Mina Miller said of the work:

I am so impressed by the emotional honesty of his writing, and by how expressively his music captures complicated human relationships. Jake Heggie has been a wonderful collaborator, and For a Look or a Touch reflects his heart as well as his genius.

In 2016, Heggie and Scheer were commissioned again to combine the two works in a single two-act opera titled "Out of Darkness." This opera also included songs written by Krystyna Zywulska that Scheer translated for the song cycle he and Scheer called "Farewell Auschwitz." After its premiere in Seattle, the opera was revised for another version "Out of Darkness: Two Remain" that opened in Atlanta in 2018.

Image: Still from Atlanta Opera's Production of "Out of Darkness: To Remain," Second Act, "For a Look or a Touch." Courtesy Atlanta Opera

Interview with Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer

Composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer have been collaborating together since the early 2000s. Adina Langer interviewed them in June 2021.

What process do you use when adapting source material for an opera?

When we're creating a piece, we're not creating a biography or a documentary of the person. We're mining emotional truths. We don't know everything they said. We don’t know everything that happened. But our job is to translate that into an emotional journey that is universal and broad enough so that people—specific and universal so that people can go on the journey.”

What interested you the most about the stories of Krystyna Zywulska and Gad Beck?

The thing that interests us the most about this story is the nature of being a survivor. How tough you have to be to survive, and the guilt of being a survivor. The ghosts that will haunt you being a survivor. All those things were really interesting to us to explore because there's a lot of pressure on survivors to be seen as heroes. And very often they do not feel heroic. You know, they just survived.
For Krystyna Zywulska, the question is what does she want to remain, and what does she want to leave behind? What is the story of her life? We write the stories of our lives every day by deciding what will remain and what will disappear.

What role do ghosts play in this work?

Music is a sort of a mystical art, and this is a way of exploring the subconscious of the story. It's a theatrical device, but when we're talking about memory, we're talking about what is suppressed, what comes out from under the surface. This notion of the ghost or the spirit which is representative of the subconscious. The beautiful thing about music is it's anchored in the subconscious, right? There's a plumb line that goes straight down to the subconscious, and so we're creating a physical manifestation of that by bringing in the spirits.

What is most important to you when writing about survivors?

We're not judging. It's a process of humanizing, of not offering judgment or categorization.

What have you enjoyed most about working on this project?

The process inspires us both. We work together all the time because Gene makes my work better, and he always says I make his work better. It's back and forth until we find what feels like the most honest, truthful expression. And this has been a real journey because these pieces started out being conceived as three different things-- Farewell Auschwitz, Another Sunrise, and For a Look or a Touch. And so combining them was forcing something that wasn't the original concept. And so it took us a while to get to it, but it did feel inspiring. Along the way, we discovered even more by being able to add more characters to share the journey. It is a journey of discovery about the subject, about the characters, and about the nature of survival.

Image: Jake Heggie, Composer, and Gene Scheer, Librettist, "For a Look or a Touch," 2021. Courtesy Music of Remembrance

Interview with Tomer Zvulun

Tomer Zvulun has been the general and artistic director of the Atlanta Opera since 2013. Adina Langer interviewed him in July 2021.

How did you come to select "Out of Darkness"  for the Atlanta Opera program?

I'm a big fan of Jake Heggie for his musical quality-- we have also staged his opera Dead Man Walking. But I was particularly attracted to the subject matter of this opera. I grew up in Israel, surrounded by the stories of Holocaust survivors. As a kid in the 1980s, they seemed like outcasts — with tattoos on their arms and strange accents — but as I grew older, I became obsessed with the stories and with the hatred that could cause the Holocaust. Later, I found out about the 100,000 plus LGBTQ people who were targeted and persecuted by the Nazis. I was drawn to the story of Gad Beck, who was a gay man who survived, and of Sonia Landau, who survived by changing her identity. This opera is a story of hope and survival.

What did you consider the most in your casting decisions?

Jake Heggie thinks of his work as music theater (not musical theater). I'm a strong believer in the power of opera as a cross section and collaboration between different art forms. In "Out of Darkness," it was important to create a world where art forms could come together. We cast a company of actors, dancers and singers who could all work together to create the world of the opera.

What role did staging play in this production? How much leeway did you have as director to make decisions about the particulars of the production?

For most operas in the repertoire, the composer died in the 19th century, but they're open to interpretation. The beautiful thing about working with living composers is that they are alive and can be at the premier. You want to make sure you align with their vision. As the director, you want to be the vessel to allow for the collaboration among the composer, dancers, lighting, etc. You want to bring consensus about how this all comes together. You facilitate the connections, and supervise the casting, and then listen to the ideas that emerge in rehearsal. It's the most beautiful thing.

What role do you feel that musical performance, and opera in particular, can play in commemorating traumatic historical events, including the Holocaust?

History is the canvas for stories, and some of the most interesting stories happen in crisis. Characters emerge. Opera is driven by character themes. We create a portrait of people who inhabit the past, and our job as artists is to surround those portraits with live action. Questions of identity are always central. Who am I? And why am I here? Opera is at the intersection of important ideas — when words are not enough, there is music. And when music is not enough, there is the human voice, the visual, the acting, the design, the live performance. Working on this opera has been one of the most profound experiences in my career — here in Atlanta, my favorite city, with people whom I think of as my family.

Image: Tomer Zvulun, courtesy tomerzvulun.com

Engage

Watch this video of the finale from the San Francisco premier of "Out of Darkness," 2016:

Then, watch this medley from the 2018 world premier of "Out of Darkness: Two Remain" at the Atlanta Opera:

Watch the trailer for "Out of Darkness: Two Remain" at the Atlanta Opera:

Finally, watch this video of mezzo soprano Elise Quagliata discussing how she created to role of Zosia in "Out of Darkness: Two Remain:"

After watching these videos, consider the following questions:

  1. What role do you think that staging plays in this opera?
  2. Why do you think it's important for the performers to be multi-talented in their portrayal of the characters and themes in this opera?
  3. How do you think that revision and workshopping contributes to the creation of a work of "music theater?"

Image: Still from the premier of "Out of Darkness" by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, 2016. Courtesy Music of Remembrance

Shmerke Kaczerginski

Born in 1908 in Vilna, Russian Lithuania, Shmerke Kaczerginski grew up in a Jewish orphanage and became active in radical politics as a young man. He wrote songs and poetry in Yiddish, often on political themes.

A leader of the Yiddish literary group Young Vilna in 1929, Shmerke became active in the Vilna ghetto's cultural life after Lithuania was conquered by Germany and Jews were confined to ghettos in 1942. Music and resistance went hand in hand in the Vilna ghetto where songs rose quickly to popularity, helping to bolster the morale of a starving population.

To thwart the German effort to steal rare books and Judaica from Vilna's Jews, Shmerke helped to form a "paper brigade" to smuggle cultural artifacts back into the ghetto. In 1943, he joined an armed resistance group and fought as a partisan guerilla in the forests bordering Lithuania and Byelorussia until the 1944 Soviet liberation of Vilna. While fighting with the partisans, he began a concerted efforted to collect songs and stories to save for posterity.

Between 1946 and 1950, he moved from Lithuania, to Poland, to Paris, and then to Buenos Aires, Argentina. During that time, he published anthologies of the Yiddish songs that he wrote and collected. His best known work is Lider fun di getos un lagern (Songs from the Ghettoes and Concentration Camps) which was published in New York in 1948.

Sadly, despite surviving the Holocaust, Shmerke died in a plane crash in Argentina at the age of 45 in April 1954. His literary legacy includes his songs and poems as well as historical and political essays about the Soviet repression of Jewish culture, and memoirs of his time as a partisan fighter.

Avraham Sutzkever (right) and Shmerke Kaczerginski in the Vilna Ghetto. Berl Kacherginsky photographed the two friends on the balcony of their apartment on Strashun Street, on the 20th of July, 1943. Courtesy Avraham Sutzkever Archive, the National Library of Israel
Shmerke with books saved by the paper brigade, Villna, Lithuania, ca. 1943. Courtesy Yad Vashem
Shmerke Kaczerginski, Łódź, Poland, ca. 1944–1945. Courtesy Yad Vashem
Shmerke Kazczerginski, Argentina, ca. 1949. Courtesy U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Image: Concept sketch for Shmerke Kaczerginski by Martha Hemingway, 2021.

"Friling (Spring)"

Written by Shmerke Kaczerginski for a melody by Abraham Brudno, April 1943, shortly after the death of Shmerke's wife, Barbara Kaufman. Written in Yiddish, first recorded in 1946, with an English translation published in 1983.

I roam through the ghetto from alley to alley,
Useless, no haven I find;
gone, my beloved, oh how can I bear it?
Won't someone say something kind?
My house is a-glow now,
the sky so much bluer
what does that mean in my life?
I stand like a beggar
I huddle at gateways
and beg for a handful of light.
Springtime, dispel my sorrow
Bring my beloved,
my dear one to me.
Springtime, blue wings for me you'll borrow
Oh take my poor heart,
and return my joy to me.
Return my joy to me!

Sonata for Cello and Piano–Mir zaynen do! by Laurence Sherr

In 2014, composer Laurence Sherr created a sonata for cello and piano based on songs from the ghettoes and camps of the Holocaust as well as those sung by partisan fighters.

Shmerke Kaczerginski's Yid du partizaner (Jew, You Partisan) forms the basis for the first movement of the sonata. Kaczerginski wrote Yiddish lyrics to a song heard in the forests where the partisans were fighting.

Three of the four songs that appear in the sonata were included in Kaczerginski's collection Songs from the Ghettoes and Camps. Woven together with newly composed music, the songs form a testament to Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

During performances, Sherr speaks about the songs and often has them performed by a singer prior to the performance of the instrumental piece. In his program notes for the piece, Sherr wrote,

Each of the creators of the songs used in the sonata has a compelling story. Their songs provide illumination of their lives and circumstances, allow us to gain perspective on lost and forbidden voices, and help us to understand the unprecedented tragedy of the Holocaust. By creating a new composition drawing on the work of these creators, it is my hope that performers and audiences will connect with their stories, and that the legacy of their cultural contributions will be strengthened and remembered.

Image: Sonata for Cello and Piano–Mir zaynen do! premiere, Karen Becker, cello, Jay Mauchley, piano, Lincoln, USA, 2015. Courtesy Laurence Sherr

Interview with Composer Laurence Sherr

How did you come to write music for Holocaust commemoration?

My background is in contemporary classical composition, but I was also playing Klezmer music, and I started a Klezmer band. But there was a wall of separation between what I did as a classical serious music composer and the Klezmer music which I played for fun. However, as I was doing research into Klezmer music, I found the music coming out in my classical compositions. At first I told myself I couldn't use it, because it was too folk music-like, but eventually I let it come out.
In the 1990s, I was commissioned to write a piece to commemorate my youngest brother, who had passed away at the age of 23 due to complications from schizophrenia. So I wrote a piece in memory of him called Elegy and Vision for Solo Cello, and what I did there in that piece was to draw more on my intuition and less from my intellectual training. So what ended up coming out was cantorial influences. The cello playing had a lot of motifs and kinds of expression that are similar to what an Ashkenazi cantor might sing in synagogue. So only later did I consciously realize that I had done that. In 1997, it was chosen for a Holocaust remembrance concert in New York City. I was asked to speak about the relation of my work to the Holocaust, and I looked back into my family history. The work was written in memory of my brother, Edwin, who was named after my mother's sister, Edith, who perished in Auschwitz.
I spoke about how my brother and my aunt were both dealing with circumstances beyond their control. As I spoke about their lives, I had an epiphany. If my composition was going to be used for Holocaust Remembrance concerts, that I had not intended for that purpose, then I should intentionally write pieces that would serve that purpose. So I did more research into Jewish music and Judaic music styles, and went from there.

Please tell me about how you view poetry and its translation into instrumental music.

Your use of the word translation is interesting, because that is something I have grappled with as well. Just the idea of translating-- the several layers of translation. One is translating from one language to another. The second is the translation of poetry into singing with musical accompaniment. The third way is translating the melody of a song from the Holocaust into an instrumental-only work with the audience not hearing the singers sing it. But in those cases, I still want the audience to know about the original composers, the original songwriters. So I try to have the concerts be an educational vehicle so that the audience understands the purpose of the music. Translation is a way to reflect, amplify, and educate audiences about the source material.
It's not just about the poetry. It's both the poetry itself and the life of the poet. This lets people relate to the history. So in setting this music, it's not only important to have the audience experience the poetry, but to learn about the life of the poet, what they were experiencing, as a form of Holocaust education.
I try as a composer to capture one or more of the different levels of meaning. Maybe one level of meaning directly as the music's being sung and another in the instrumental music that comes afterward that reflects on it.

As a composer, do you find yourself thinking differently about the words of people who died in the Holocaust versus the words of people who survived?

I don't necessarily differentiate, because the situations of people who survived were often just as precarious as those who died. You never knew who would survive and who would not. The stories that we have today from people who survived, there would have been just as interesting stories from those who didn't if they would have survived. It was just some stroke of luck or circumstances. Some people survived and others didn't. What matters is whether the poetry refers to those who perished or refers to survival.

Why did you choose poetry by Shmerke Kaczerginsky for your Cello sonata?

I wanted to specifically choose works that represent Jews as not going like lambs to the slaughter but fighting the oppression, of fighting the persecution, and of fighting the genocide. And Kaczerginsky was active as a leader, a poet, an archivist, a folklorist, and a historian of the Vilna ghetto. He wrote songs to bolster the spirit and confidence of his fellow Jews in his Soviet partisan unit to say "We're just as good. We are strong. We are fighting." I wanted to show the courage.

Laurence Sherr is Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Kennesaw State University. The son of a Holocaust survivor, he is active as a composer of Holocaust remembrance music, lecturer on Holocaust music topics, producer of remembrance events, and Holocaust music educator. His compositions have won numerous awards and been performed around the world. Adina Langer interviewed him in July 2021. To learn more, visit http://ksuweb.kennesaw.edu/~lsherr/Holocaust-music.html

Image: Laurence Sherr, 2018. Courtesy Laurence Sherr

Engage

Watch the world premier of Laurence Sherr's Cello Sonata:

After you watch the video, consider the following questions:

  1. What role does the cello play in communicating the feeling of the original source songs?
  2. How is instrumental music different in your experience of Holocaust commemorative music?
  3. How might you choose to present the songs and works of Shmerke Kaczerginski?

Image: A close-up of the bridge area on a cello, 2009. Courtesy Turidoth

Nelly Sachs

Born in Berlin on December 10, 1881, Nelly Sachs began writing poetry at the age of seventeen. During the 1930s, she studied ancient Jewish texts while contemplating the rise of Nazism. In 1940, Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlof aided Nelly's escape to Sweden, where she lived with her mother in a tiny apartment for the duration of the war. There, she worked as a translator and wrote lyric poetry in German, often on mystical themes related to loss and survival.

Her most famous poem "O die Schornsteine" (O the Chimneys) relates directly to the murder of Jews in Nazi death camps. First published in 1947, it became the title poem of a 1967 anthology of her works in English translation. In 1970, The Seeker, and Other Poems further cemented her reputation among English speakers.

Nelly was honored with the 1965 Peace Prize of German Publishers and the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature. In her acceptance speech, she took on the mantle of suffering that Jews had experienced during the Holocaust saying,

I represent the tragedy of the Jewish people.

Nelly Sachs died in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1970.

Nelly Sachs, 1910. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Nelly Sachs, 1966. Courtesy Nobel Foundation

Image: Concept sketch for Nelly Sachs illustration by Julia Guevara, 2021.

World, do not ask those snatched from death

by Nelly Sachs, "O The Chimneys," 1966, translation copyright 1970.

World, do not ask those snatched from death
where they are going,
they are always going to their graves.
The pavements of the foreign city
were not laid for the music of fugitive footsteps–
The windows of the houses that reflect a lifetime
of shifting tables heaped with gifts from a picture-book
heaven–
were not cut for eyes
which drank terror at its source.
World, a strong iron has cauterized the wrinkle of their
smile;
they would like to come to you
because of your beauty,
but for the homeless all ways wither
like cut flowers–
But we have found a friend
in exile: the evening sun.
Blessed by its suffering light
we are bidden to come to it with our sorrow
which walks beside us:
A psalm of night.

Image: Excerpt from sheet music for "Fugitive Footseps" by Laurence Sherr, based on "World, do not ask those snatched from death."

Flame Language and Fugitive Footsteps by Laurence Sherr

Laurence Sherr was first drawn to the poetry of Nelly Sachs in 2000 when he decided on a choral setting for his first intentional Holocaust remembrance work.

I found Nelly Sachs. I really liked her work because it was specific if you knew her life circumstances, but it was also universal because while she references the Holocaust obliquely, she is also referring to the universal suffering of losing a loved one or the universal suffering of being a refugee and having to leave and go to a different land and culture.

Sherr chose Sachs' poem "World, do not ask those snatched from death" for his choral work, "Fugitive Footsteps." In it, the chorus performs a cappella, and Sherr uses the technique of text painting to communicate the meaning behind the words.

"Flame Language,” based on Sachs' poem "The Candle That I Have Lit for You,” was written in 2007 and 2008 for mezzo-soprano or baritone and chamber orchestra or chamber ensemble. In discussing the relationship between the vocal music and the instrumental music in the piece, Sherr said,

The singer sings, but after each section with a singer, there is instrumental music. Instrumental music is meant as a reflection, as a way to delve into the meaning of the poetry.

Sherr also reflected on the importance of using English-language translation's of Sachs' poetry in his works:

I used English translations because it was important to me for the words to be intelligible. A crucial approach for me is to try to make as much as possible the words intelligible, understandable so that the audience listening can actually hear and understand the words, because the words are the crucial part.

Image: "Fugitive Footsteps," Kieran Raynor, baritone, Cantoris Choir, Thomas Nikora, conductor, Wellington, New Zealand, 2014. Courtesy Laurence Sherr

The Secret Exit by Lori Laitman

In 2017, Lori Laitman was commissioned by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to write "The Secret Exit" for soprano Kristine Hurst-Wajsczuk and clarinetist Denise Gainey. Based on three poems by Nelly Sachs, the song cycle reflects on themes of life and death.

In a 2021 interview with Sheena Ramirez, Latiman said,

Kristine and I consulted quite a bit about which poems to choose, eventually settling on three poems that reflected on life and death. The first one in particular was longer and more complex in language and structure than poems I typically set and presented a challenge.

Laitman also reflected that her favorite moments in the songs involved the interplay between the clarinet and the voice, and how that related to themes in the poetry.

Image: Recording cover for "The Secret Exit" by Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk and Denise Gainey, world premier, FRIDAY, JANUARY 26, 2018. Courtesy Temple Emanu-El (Birmingham, Alabama)

Engage

Watch Laurence Sherr's "Flame Language:"

Listen to "The Secret Exit" by Lori Laitman:

Watch "Fugitive Footsteps" by Laurence Sherr:

After watching the videos, consider the following questions:

  1. How do you feel that the solo voice, instruments, chamber orchestra, and chorus contribute differently to the interpretation of Sachs' poetry?
  2. What themes in Sachs' poetry come out through the music?
  3. How might you choose to interpret poetry by Nelly Sachs?

Image: Google Doodle for Nelly Sachs' 127th birthday, December 10, 2018. Courtesy Google.com

Elie Wiesel

Born in Sighet, Romania, in 1928, Eliezer Wiesel grew up in a close-knit Jewish community in the Carpathian Mountains near the Ukranian border with his parents and three sisters. He was known as Elie to his family and friends.

The area underwent changes in political leadership, culminating in the 1944 Nazi invasion of Hungary that resulted in the confinement of Jews to ghettos and deportation to concentration camps.

Elie was deported to Auschwitz with his family. Upon arrival, he was separated from his mother and sisters. He and his father were assigned to a labor camp called Buna where they loaded stones onto railway cars. His father died on January 29, 1945, shortly after they had been transported to Buchenwald. Elie was among those liberated by the United States Third Army on April 11, 1945.

After the war, Elie was resettled in France where he enrolled at the Sorbonne in 1948 after mastering French through reading literature. He became a journalist for L'Arche and Yediot Ahronot and reported on the founding of the new state of Israel. In 1956, he wrote an 800-page memoir in Yiddish after encouragement from French journalist Francois Mauriac. The Yiddish memoir was titled Un di velt hot geshvign (And the World Has Remained Silent) and was published in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Translated into French and reduced to 127 pages, he published it as La Nuit in 1958. In 1960, the first English version was published in the United States.

Elie had first come to the United States as a foreign correspondent in 1955, but was able to become a permanent resident in 1957 due to being a "stateless person with expired visas." In 1963, he became a United States citizen.

Elie married his wife, Marion Rose, in Jerusalem in 1969, and their son, Shlomo Elisha, was born in 1972. The family lived in New York City, where Elie was a Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York and continued to publish books at a rate of almost one per year.

In the late 1970s, Elie became involved with President Jimmy Carter's United States Commission on the Holocaust which ultimately led to the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. His reputation as a moving and thoughtful speaker on the subject of memory and inter-ethnic understanding led to his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Following a re-translation of Night into English by Marion Wiesel in 2006, Elie experienced renewed recognition when Oprah Winfrey selected the book for her popular book club and traveled with him to Auschwitz. In 2016, Elie Wiesel died in New York City at the age of 87.

Elie Wiesel, age 15, shortly before deportation, 1943. Courtesy Chicago Public Library
Elie Wiesel in a barracks during the liberation of Buchenwald, 1945. Courtesy National Civil Rights Museum
Elie Wiesel teaching a seminar at Boston University, 1982, Courtesy Boston University Collection

Image: Concept sketch for Elie Wiesel illustration by Martha Hemingway, 2021.

Credit: This section was created with research assistance from MHHE intern Alysa Matsunaga

Excerpt from Night by Elie Wiesel

From 2006 retranslation, published by Hill and Wang, pp. 45-46

Evenings, as we lay on our cots, we sometimes tried to sing a few Hasidic melodies. Akiba Drumer would break our hearts with his deep, grave voice. Some of the men spoke of God: His mysterious ways, the sins of the Jewish people, and the redemption to come. As for me, I had ceased to pray. I concurred with Job! I was not denying His existence, but I doubted His absolute justice. Akiba Drumer said: "God is testing us. He wants to see whether we are capable of overcoming our base instincts, of killing the Satan within ourselves. We have no right to despair. And if He punishes us mercilessly, it is a sign that He loves us that much more… " Hersh Genud, well versed in Kabbalah, spoke of the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah. From time to time, in the middle of all that talk, a thought crossed my mind: Where is Mother right now…and Tzipora…"Mother is still a young woman," my father once said. "She must be in a labor camp. And Tzipora, she is a big girl now. She too must be in a camp … " How we would have liked to believe that. We pretended, for what if one of us still did believe?

Image: Elie Wiesel, 1985. Courtesy Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

The "Night" Holocaust Project

The “Night” Holocaust Project was sponsored by the L.G. Holocaust Project Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit (based in Boca Raton, Florida) that aims to inform the public about the Holocaust in order to “combat anti-Semitism and all forms of racism and violence.” According to the “Night” Holocaust Project’s website, the project’s purpose was in, “educating young high school and college students about the dangers of antisemitism, as well as all forms of hate — by bringing these young people to confront the horrors of the Holocaust, as experienced and memorialized by the late Elie Wiesel.”

The project combines the words of Elie Wiesel with the music of Leib Glantz, a famous composer of Jewish cantorial music who was impacted by the growing antisemitism in Europe before the Holocaust. He fled Ukraine for the United States before World War II. Both Wiesel and Glantz were leaders in the Zionist movement (for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine/Israel) after the war. Composer Joseph Ness then orchestrated the concert to combine Wiesel's words with Glantz's music with elements unique to the country in which it is being performed.

In each concert, the project enlists performers from the host country to recite excerpts from Wiesel's Night (for example Tamara Gverdtsiteli, a Russian acress, reciting the words in Kaliningrad Dome). The excerpts from Night are interspersed with music by Leib Glantz as well as other musical performances and quotations on themes of tolerance, unity, diversity, and peace from significant figures across various human endeavors (for example, microbiologist Rene Dubos quote:

Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.

Throughout the performances, lyrics to the musical pieces, or images related to the Holocaust, are shown on a screen behind the orchestra. Wiesel's words that detail the horrors of the Holocaust and his loss of faith while experiencing them are juxtaposed with Glantz's liturgical music to provide a message of hope.

The first international "Night" concert premiered on January 27, 2019 (United Nations International Day of Holocaust Remembrance) at Kaliningrad Dome in Russia. The second concert occurred at St. John's Church in Lithuania on January 29. January 27, 2020 marked the third, and final to date, international concert at Hannover Congress Hall in Germany. More concerts were planned in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the project on hold.

Image: Promotional graphics for The "Night" Concert Florida Performance, November 20, 2019. Courtesy 4boca.com

Engage

Watch the World Premier of the "Night" Holocaust Concert:

Watch the German Holocaust Project performance here:

After comparing these performances, consider the following questions:

  1. How did the actors reading Wiesel’s words portray the severity of the Holocaust? What is it that they did differently?
  2. Based on what you have heard and seen, what themes were present in the performance? How were these themes presented to the audience?
  3. How were images and quotations used differently in these two performances?
  4. Overall, were the performances effective in portraying their message? How so?

Image: Performance of Night Holocaust Concert, 2019. Courtesy Night Holocaust Project

Conclusion

Lasting Language

Many of the musical compositions featured in this exhibit were commissioned by Music of Remembrance which began in 1998 with a mission to remember the Holocaust through music and has since extended its mission to honor "those of all backgrounds who found the strength to create even in the face of persecution, and those who had the courage to speak out against cruelty."

Such musical commissions literally re-present the voices of those who experienced the Holocaust, amplifying the emotional impact of their words and leaving new impressions on audience members.

But they are not the only way to represent these voices and perpetuate their memory. Artwork, like the illustrations on view in this exhibit, drama, animation, collaborative storytelling, and sharing on social media are all ways to keep memory alive.

The Museum of History and Holocaust Education emphasizes the importance of meeting history face to face. But what will you do once you meet that history? How will you share it with others?

These new works bridge generations. They focus fresh creative energies on the vital lessons of the Holocaust for whole new generations.

~ Music of Remembrance founder Mina Miller in Gigi Yellen's article "The Arts: Memory and Music," Hadassah Magazine, July 2012.

Image: Mina Miller, Courtesy Music of Remembrance

Engage

After experiencing Words, Music, Memory (Re)presenting Voices of the Holocaust, we invite you to consider the following activities based on the writers featured in the exhibit. Be creative and feel free to share your works with us on Twitter or Facebook @KSUMHHE.

Franta Bass

Illustration by Julia Guevara

Draw a picture of something special to you.

Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger

Illustration by Martha Hemingway

Write song lyrics that comfort someone in fear.

Anne Frank

Illustration by Julia Guevara

Write a journal entry about your family or group of friends.

Eva Heyman

Illustration by Martha Hemingway

Make a video about an activity that makes you happy.

Krystyna Zywulska

Illustration by Julia Guevara

Write a dramatic scene poking fun at something you find ridiculous.

Shmerke Kaczerginski

Illustration by Martha Hemingway

Create a playlist of your favorite songs or make a scrapbook with poems by your favorite writers.

Nelly Sachs

Illustration by Julia Guevara

Write a poem about something you've had to leave behind.

Elie Wiesel

Illustration by Martha Hemingway

Write a story about someone you think should be remembered.

Image: Page from diary of Vincent Cornelius Reed, ca. 1918. Courtesy Vincent Cornelius Reed Collection, Veterans History Project, Library of Congress

Exhibit Credits

Curator: Adina Langer

Designer: Zoila Torres

Research Interns: Alysa Matsunaga and Celia Clark

Focus Group Interns: Armando Betancourt, Kathryn Graham, Ashley Burgess, Cami Kottke, Michael Putlak, Mclain Stenland, and Holly Smith

Artists: Julia Guevara and Martha Hemingway

Exhibit Content Partners: Sheena Ramirez, Laurence Sherr, and Lori Laitman

Special Thanks to Interviewees: Jake Heggie, Gene Scheer, Mia Quiney, Wendy Kesselman, Tomer Zvulun, and Mina Miller

MHHE Exhibit and Education Team: Catherine Lewis, Stefanie Green, Tony Howell, James Newberry, Kelly Hoomes, Andrea Miskewicz, Camden Anich, Brittany Sealey, Isabel Mann, and Tyler Crafton-Karnes