Does it open up your world?

Mark Ludwig Violist, Boston Symphony OrchestraDirector, Terezin Chamber Music Foundation
[during "Arts of Tolerance” a series of workshops, performances and discussions organized by the Stories Exchange Project, 18-19 September 2000]
Terezin, Czech Republic
A little over twelve years ago I began to research the music and the history of composers who were incarcerated in Theresienstadt [Terezin]. It really started with reading a biography of a rabbi who had been incarcerated here. In his diary he mentioned a couple of composers and having gone to concerts.
Certainly a concentration camp would be one of the least likely places where one would expect to go to concerts, let alone imagine that art was created and music was composed.
I began visiting the Czech Republic, going through archives, and interviewing survivors. What emerged was a body of music that was amazingly powerful.
No mystery: these composers were on their way to very promising careers before the War. And fortunately they left behind a body of music – especially chamber music – , that’s just phenomenal.
And when you compare that with the history you have a really powerful vehicle to sensitize people to present-day issues of intolerance, racism, and prejudice.
I formed the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation, which on one level was devoted to preserving this music and its history, and then to stepping forward into a contemporary context of dealing with education programs on human rights. It’s a very natural extension of that to be participating in this conference here in Terezin with the Roma.
And it’s very appropriate to perform this music once again where it was created – and to tie it in with these workshops examining human rights issues today that the Roma are faced with here in the Czech Republic: that adds to the memory of this music and the history of these composers.
Last night to be performing in the Attic Theater, to see an audience seated on benches similar to benches that were used at performances when Terezin was a Nazi transit camp to Auschwitz – it didn’t take much to go back in time.
Though of course it was very different too. We’re all comfortable, and our lives are not threatened.
There’s real poignancy in playing the music here in Terezin, knowing the history – and knowing that in audience there are survivors who were present at the concerts during the War.
And talking with them before and after our performances: hearing what it means to them sixty years later. You’re here in the moment performing, but you can’t help but feel history seep back.
I think the folk music in the works by Gideon Klein and Hans Krasa that we played really resonated with the Roma here yesterday and last night – especially with the Roma musicians.
Body language tells a lot: how people move with the music. And their enthusiasm: the applause – but more importantly the attention, how quiet it was. You look out and you see the intent gazes of people really focusing on the music.
I think it’s also because throughout the day we’d been talking about this music and its history and about the experience of Roma today.
Between the Jews and the Roma there’s a connection of experience, a connection of being targeted, of being a victim – and almost a solidarity when you hear what other people suffered.
When Helga Weissova-Hoskova speaks about her experience as a child-prisoner, for instance.
[see in this menu, “The Holocaust,” “You can have a great influence”]
And listening to Roma participants, hearing what their concerns are, and their experiences. I think there’s a bond being made, a real dialogue of experience – and a willingness to listen to one another.
And hopefully to look forward to the next step: where do you go from here? How do you take a more pro-active stance and try to change the dynamics of the society?
I think that music, any form of expression, regardless of our backgrounds – that’s just part of who we are. It’s breathing. We need to have a voice, whether we sing or play an instrument or paint or tell. Being listened to, being given attention: that’s human dignity.
“Am I worth anything?” This is always the theme, whether you’re here in Terezin remembering what was done to the Jews here and then listening to the Roma tell about what’s happening to them today—or whether you’re in Sarajevo, as I was a few years ago.
I think art is one of the main keys to survival—for all of us.
Zuzana Podmelova Terezin survivor Lecturer, Jewish Museum, Prague
Music meant such a lot for us because we felt like human beings again. We didn’t feel like animals. You could cry, you could open your heart.
For moments to forget, for half an hour to forget.
We could cry there, we could be happy there. We could remember and we could hope.
All of us tried to take part. It was not so easy.
Helga Weissova-Hoskova Terezin survivor Painter, Prague
We were not only hungry physically: we were hungry for culture. We had very few meals, but people would give their last piece of bread to get a ticket for a performance.
Everything could be taken from you except what you had inside.
Mark Ludwig
When you hear testimonies of people who bartered bread for a ticket to go and hear some music for half an hour or an hour, then you realize that art is not frivolous: that it’s right up there with sustenance
Look at Terezin in the early Forties. People are bringing in clothing, food, the basic items: the usual concerns are shelter and food and clothing. But right alongside that, people are smuggling in instruments and music. And then later in the midst of deprivation people are bartering food for a ticket to hear maybe half hour an hour of music. That is powerful testimony to the power of art.
We need art: it’s who we are.
It’s about having a voice, through performing or being part of that experience in an audience. It’s expression: it’s the mind. And the mind – the soul – needs the nourishment too.
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
My father worked in this building. And also in this building, my drawings were hidden.
Of course you know the story of my drawings.
[see in this menu, “The Holocaust,” “You can have a great influence”]
The streets are empty now. But always when I was walking here there were such a lot of people,
Do try— I say this to everybody – : do try to imagine such a lot of people walking here.
Zuzana Podmelova:
There were only a few thousand people here, but then there were forty thousand, sixty thousand…
About sixty thousand had to go to the East. The children had no chance. Only those who could stay in Theresienstadt. Otherwise — 
The most touching things were old people and kids. And Helga was one of them.
Helga Weissova-Hoskova:
I was twelve when I was deported here, and I was here for three years, and after that I was deported to Auschwitz, and after Auschwitz to slave work in Germany.
How it happened that I was chosen for slave work I don’t know because I wasn’t fifteen and children younger than fifteen were all sent to the gas chambers.
Mark Ludwig
Yesterday when we were walking with Helga it was a special experience for me. When I first visited the Czech Republic back in eighty-eight Helga was my host. She was one of the first Terezin. survivors with whom I began to work.
To walk the streets with her and to see the barracks that she stayed in, to talk about concerts that she went to and other pivotal events over the couple of years that she was incarcerated here in Terezin: that brought her history back to life for a moment.
Because you’re hearing her story, the emotion of it, seeing it etched in her face, you have some sense of who she is. And that shared experience really adds to the poignancy of what happened here in Terezin.
What’s history?
History is basically stories.
It’s stories of people’s experiences in life.
It’s their perspective.
And you can take a group of people who have been in a given place, but they have very different experiences. So you put them together to get a more full, rounded image of it.
But how they transmit the emotion of it, what they decide to focus on: that tells you a lot about the person who is telling the story.
And it also determines how you walk into it.
What is it that resonates with you? What is it that has a special quality for us when we hear the stories that are being collected in this project.
Which are the voices that really speak to us?
It’s just like the music.
What is there about the music? You can’t quite pinpoint it, and you don’t need to analyze it, but does it get you in your gut? Does it really grab you?
Does it speak to you?
And does it open up your world?
Is it perhaps differences of experience that make you vital and alive and challenge you and stretch your boundaries of thought?
I think that’s what this is about.
Between the stories and the music, you’ve got two art forms, these two powerful forms of expression where people are reaching out, and that’s where real dialogue begins.
Ronan Lefkowitz Violinist, Boston Symphony Orchestra
The Roma’s style of music-making is very different from ours. For them it’s very direct, a thing of the moment: a thing of great joy, a way to express extremes of emotion and do it without introduction and without paying too much attention to abstract concepts as we do when we play.
We talk about little details usually, and their approach is so full of life. It’s a great release for them: a major part of their lives, a daily part of their lives.
I’m very proud to be playing this music here. I know that we are part of a bigger plan to get as many people as possible to get to know about Theresienstadt, to know that great creativity was going on and how important creativity was to people.
I just e-mailed my children back in Boston. When I was walking around Prague and saw the memorials to the resistance figures who had died and all those plaques, I immediately thought how important it is for us all to express ourselves in a creative way if we’re artistic, if we’re musical, or in any other way: that is such a life-affirming thing.
There’s never a day I wake up without thinking about how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing.
[See also in “The Holocaust” menu of “Stories and Responses”:
 — the full text of the Ronan Lefkowitz interview
 — a conversation between Terezin survivors Helga Weissova-Hoskova and Zuzana Podmelova, “It’s very close to us, the past.”
And see under “Terezin September 2000” in “Performances” Mark Ludwig’s remarks about music composed in Terezin, “What do they do? They create.”]

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