I was privileged to attend a unique gala concert, “a tribute to artistic creativity and survival in Terezin.” The fortress Therezienstadt was built at the end of 18th century by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II who named it in honor of his mother Maria Theresa. However, the Nazis found another use for the quaint little town. In 1940 it became a concentration camp, mainly for Czechoslovakian Jews, but also for Jews from Austria and Germany. “More than 150,000 Jews were sent there, including 15,000 children, and held there for months or years, before being sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz extermination camps in occupied Poland, as well as to smaller camps elsewhere. Less than 150 children survived” (http://www.terezin.org).
Barbed wire and the infamous concentration camp slogan “Work Frees” marked the entrance to the inner camp of Terezin. Conditions were dismal, and, even though Terezin was not a death camp but rather a transfer station to Treblinka and Auschwitz, about 33,000 people died there, in addition to approximately 88,000 transported to their eventual death elsewhere. As fate would have it, Terezin population was composed of the creme de la creme of intellectual and cultural elite: prominent writers, poets, musicians, composers, actors, and artists. Some of them risked their lives to smuggle in musical instruments which Jews, by Nazi law, were forbidden to keep. A cello, sawed into pieces, was reassembled in Terezin!
As the word about extermination camps started spreading around the world, a Red Cross inspection was allowed to visit Terezin, a “model internment camp.” Among several cultural events staged for this visit, was a performance of Verdi’s Requiem by an adult chorus of 150 Jews conducted by a Czech composer Rafael Schächter. The notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who had hosted the Red Cross representatives, remarked later, “Those crazy Jews – singing their own requiem.”
A propaganda film was made on the basis of the inspection, called “Theresienstadt. Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem jüdischen Siedlungsgebiet“ (“Terezin: A Documentary Film of the Jewish Resettlement”). Immediately upon the conclusion of the visit, all performers were deported to Auschwitz, where they perished (ibid.)
Terezin Music Foundation (TMF) was founded in 1991 in Boston. It dedicates itself to “recovering, preserving, and performing the music created by prisoners in the Terezín (Theresienstadt) concentration camp during WWII, where the Nazis attempted to hide unspeakable horrors behind a facade of art and culture. Inside the camp, from 1941 to 1945, composers Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása, Viktor Ullmann, and many others were spiritually sustained by music they composed and performed” (http://www.terezinmusic.org). The gala concert I attended, called “Do Not Forget Me,” featured music by those composers performed by prominent musicians and vocal soloists (https://www.tmfgala.org).
As a part of the Nazi propaganda film, they included an excerpt from a children’s musical produced in camp. Two of those children, Ela Weissberger and Michael Gruenbaum, survived and became active members of TMF. As a finale of the gala, a clip of the Nazi film showing the final chorus of the children’s musical was shown, followed by the Boston Children Chorus performing the same number together with Michael Gruenbaum!
Here is a close up of my granddaughter Alisia (between the girl in glasses and the tall boy). I don’t know who was more emotional, the kids singing on stage or the audience! I know I was crying, and I wasn’t the only one.
Part of the Nazi “Operation Embellishment,” the elaborate fiction staged for the Red Cross inspection and filmed, was a Viennese-style cafe combined with a cabaret performance. Camp inmates, the doomed candidates for extermination, were dressed in fashionable clothes and positioned at cafe tables with cups of coffee in front of them. You could almost smell the tantalizing aroma of melted chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon exuding from those dainty steaming cups topped with whipped cream! You can also visualize the smoke of Auschwitz ovens where these people ended their lives.
In their memory and as a tribute to their heroic lives, let’s have a real Vienna coffee, made with cream and chocolate.
This is pretty clear and also insanely, richly decadent; that’s why I am not making it but using a stock image. You can try to recreate it with substitute products, but it would not be the same. It would be, well, almost like pretending that the doomed Terezin inmates were enjoying themselves, sipping Vienna coffee in a Viennese cafe.
WE WILL NOT FORGET YOU!