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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    'I WANDERED THROUGH THERESIENSTADT'


A story and ballad about Theresienstadt by prolific songwriter Jerry Silverman followed. Silverman related the tale of the Jeitteles dynasty to illustrate the tragic fate of European Jewry. The 18th century Jeitteles had been a scientist who discovered a smallpox vaccine in Prague and who was honoured by the Emperor. His grandson Aloys was a doctor and poet, whose poems were set by Beethoven as the first true song cycle, An die ferne geliebte. Finally Berthold Jeitteles, born in 1875, was incarcerated in Terezin in 1939. His amazing survival, following deportation to Auschwitz and return to Terezin, symbolized the harrowing ordeal that awaited even the most illustrious family. Silverman sung his ballad with poignant simplicity, which was followed by Cantor Stephen Leas's rhapsodic cantorial rendition of the Hebrew memorial prayer, its fervent and inspiring melody reaching a pure toned falsetto at the intimate, intense climax.

It set the ambience for the screening of the TV film They never touched my bread that followed. The film was made twenty years ago in 1986, when the Jewish Music Festival (which later became the JMI) held an event of reconciliation in Canterbury Cathedral, at which Ronald Senator's Requiem for Terezin was premièred, with Louis Berkman as the cantor soloist. This work was set alongside performances by the Zemel Choir of other Hebrew works, and the occasion afforded an opportunity to invite two survivors of Terezin, the pianist Edith Kraus and the baritone Karel Berman, to meet after forty years. A film was made of their reunion, and concert, and broadcast on Remembrance Day 1986. Berman, principal bass of the Prague National Opera, passed away recently, but the film kept its contemporary topicality.

The title is a quote by Edith Kraus who somehow focused on the good things at Terezin: despite the terrible hunger, deprivation, and squalor, human respect and dignity was maintained, and it was music above all which kept the spirits high. To the interviewer, Peter Williams, Kraus emphasised that the Nazis never attended the concerts, it was only for the Jewish 'inmates'. Kraus was always concerned for her husband who was finally deported, and suggested that 'women were stronger', somehow they survived, while the men suffered more. Asked if she could ever forgive, Kraus answered: 'I cannot hate ... but neither can I ... go to Germany ...' The film concluded with Peter Williams' telling words: '... while their music survives, they are remembered.' That thought provided a moving link into the second half of the programme which featured much beautiful music.

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Copyright © 18 April 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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