During the Holocaust, the Nazis realized that murdering prominent Jews would draw attention to their atrocious activities, so they imprisoned thousands of Jewish artists and intellectuals in certain labor camps, such as Theresienstadt, and gave them a rare amount of independence.
This concentration of creative talent led to many works of art, which served as a cathartic means of survival and at times a defiant act of resistance for the Jewish inmates.
New research is bringing the full spectrum of these works to light – and sometimes to the stage.
With many back-stories to choose from, a new wave of researchers and artists is elevating “music as resistance” to the forefront of Holocaust education. A leading project is the traveling mega-production called “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin,” a memorial concert for the musical prisoners of the Nazi camp Theresienstadt, also known as Terezin, outside Prague.
Launched in 2002, the production hinges on a lavish, full orchestra performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s seminal Requiem, a Roman Catholic funeral mass. It was this complex Latin arrangement that Jewish conductor Raphael Schachter, imprisoned in Theresienstadt, chose to perform with a chorus of 150 fellow prisoners in 1943.
To build their story around the 84-minute Verdi masterpiece, “Defiant Requiem” creators interspersed it with live narration, video testimony from Theresienstadt survivors, and “show” footage shot by Nazis inside the camp. The finished product has been performed more than 30 times around the world, and recently wrapped a coast-to-coast US tour.