The Israeli press chose to put Madonna on the front page yet ignored the brilliant performance of the Defiant Requiem in Jerusalem. The Defiant Requiem – herewith my report, written as we came home from the performance.
It is almost midnight, nearly the first of June, but I had to write to you tonight and now filled with admiration, emotion, hope, sadness and defiance.
We just got home from the most incredible, unforgettable evening at the International Conference Centre in Jerusalem, where we went to hear Verdi’s Requiem, but this was no ordinary performance, this was a performance of the DEFIANT Requiem.
The Defiant Requiem emerged from a short comment in the history of Theresienstadt, about a conductor who succeeded in bringing people to song and music through the most extreme of dire straits, having reached the limit of human emotional endurance. Maestro Murray Sidlin, in far off America, put an advertisement on the internet asking for information on Maestro Rafael Schachter, the Maestro of Theresienstadt and received a response from the niece of Maestro Schachter in Israel. That conversation led to visits to Israel and lengthy and deep research on the part of Murray Sidlin, the formation of The Defiant Requiem Foundation and an incredible story began to unfold. While this is not the first concert of the Requiem, indeed Maestro Sidlin took it to the Czech Republic, to Theresienstadt (today called Teresin) tonight represented the culmination of Murray Sidlins dream as the Defiant Requiem played itself out on a Jerusalem stage, in the independent Jewish State with the soaring voices of the Prague Kuhn Choir, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and Israeli soloists. It was everything one could expect and more! It was phenomenal! It was musical brilliance interspersed with film documentation and witness reports of survivors of the original choir, with narration by the Maestro, and Israeli actors Yona Elian and Sasson Gabbai, bringing to light the heroic story of one mans determination to give hope to the helpless and dignity to those who had the most basic of human dignity stripped from them in a place without hope. In the audience sat survivors of the original choir, watching their own lives play out in front of them.
The irony of Jewish voices soaring to the music written in defiance of the Catholic Church by an Italian in Latin is clearly apparent throughout yet, yet the very style of music tells us that even in this hell-hole the Jews were looking for a way to express their feelings to G-d. Maestro Schachter was a mild mannered man yet he demanded absolute attention and perfection from his choir. He taught them the massive piece by rote since he had but one score, one libretto, one possibility to draw the final vestiges of human pride in their achievement from themselves as a group, as Jews, and from each and every one of the singers. Under-nourished, sick, threatened daily, ill-treated and a truly sorry lot, he transformed them into great performers with a purpose in life – he gave them hope.
In 1944 the Germans seized the opportunity that the camp presented and decided to make a propaganda film to convince the world that this was a “Jewish Village, a retreat for the Jews”. Only the fittest were filmed and children who had no food were given candies and filmed relishing the prospect, sand pits and toys for those who had nowhere to lay their heads; adults given clothing and told to lounge around as if at a holiday spa and of course the orchestra and choir performed for the Red Cross who chose to believe the Nazis – as they do today believing our enemies against Israel.
When the heart wrenching power of the performance was reaching its end, Murray Sidlin asked the audience to remain standing in silence in honour of those perished and those who survived, some of whom were in the audience, rather than applaud. In silence and darkening stage the choir and orchestra left the stage one at a time, slowly filing out until just one violin softly played Oseh Shalom – please G-d make peace.
What struck me so deeply tonight is the terrifying similarity to today’s world and the expendability of Jewish lives. We, Israel and the Jews, are today’s Czechoslovakia.
The magnificent Kuhn Choir, filled the enormous hall with Elysian voices, came especially from Prague for this amazing performance., brought to Jerusalem by the Czech Government with a great deal of help from Czech Ambassador to Israel Tomas Pojar, whose late father was also a Czech Ambassador to Israel. In his short but moving speech after the performance Ambassador Pojar made it clear that we have at least one friend in Europe, one ally. What country could possibly understand our isolation than the Czechs who suffered so terribly in World War Two and under Soviet autocracy.
Kudos to the Director of the Israel Festival Yossi Tal-Gan whose ingenuity and diligence ensured the success of this project.
As we sat in the auditorium in Jerusalem, Capital City of a Jewish State entranced by a performance of Verdis Requiem some 68 years after Eichmann sat and heard the Terezin Choir perform for him, sitting in Jerusalem, where Eichmann came to justice and where the Jews built a phenomenal, innovative, generous, democratic country, we could sit and recall the horror of Terezin, Teresin, Theresienstadt and a time when Jews had no home to call their own.
We must consider the relevance today of Maestro Rafael Shachter, a man who understood that only through the defiance of success could he bring hope to his people. His choir changed, time after time as members were sent to the death camps, but he persevered until finally this brave and proud man was taken to Auschwitz and put to death. He defied his detractors, he brought beauty where there was none and tonight’s performance brought his courage to life.
Madonna, sure she is fun but next to the Defiant Requiem………. who needs Madonna?