Posts Tagged ‘Abbey’

Westminster Abbey to honour music of the Nazi camps

January 25th, 2015

Sir Andrew told The Telegraph his poem, Finis (see below), was an attempt to recognise both the difficulty and necessity of creating art in the face of the Holocaust.

“I tried to convey the struggle of adequately expressing one’s feelings about what happened, to make sure we don’t forget and to honour the lives that were lost there,” he said. “Adorno [German sociologist] said that after Auschwitz poetry was impossible, but you have to try, because if nothing gets said it increases the chances it will happen again.”

Among the music being performed at the service will be Ani Ma’amin, a religious song attributed to Reb Azriel David Fastag, a Chassidic Jew and renowned singer and composer from Warsaw, who is thought to have composed the melody on the train taking him and thousands of other men, women and children to their deaths at the Treblinka camp, in Nazi-occupied Poland.


Musician Viktor Ullmann (Holocaust music archive, Rome)

Contemporary accounts suggest that as he sang the words, others near him took it up the song and it spread from wagon to wagon. One young man managed to escape from the train, eventually making his way at the end of the war to the newly founded State of Israel, where his memory of Fastag’s tune and words were transcribed. Fastag died at Treblinka in 1942, along with an estimated 700,000 to 900,000 Jews and 2,000 Romani people.

Also being performed is an excerpt from a string quartet composed by Viktor Ullmann in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, in the Czech city of Terezín, in 1943. Conditions at the Theresienstadt enabled Ullmann, a composer and conductor, to remain active musically. Here he played piano, organised concerts and carried on composing. writing at the time: “By no means did we sit weeping on the banks of the waters of Babylon. Our endeavour with respect to arts was commensurate with our will to live.”


Szymon Laks and his wife in Nice in 1948

Ullmann was later transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he died in the gas chambers on October 18, 1944, aged 46 – three months before its liberation on January 27, 1945.

One of the most moving pieces of music to emerge from the experience of the death camps was a song written by Ullmann’s fellow Auschwitz detainee Szymon Laks.

Laks was only able to survive Auschwitz-Birkenau by serving in, and later conducting, the orchestra of Auschwitz II and after the war wrote the song about his experiences of the camp, where 1.1 million were killed as part of Hitler’s so-called Final Solution, around 90 per cent of them Jewish.

The song was originally composed for voice and piano, and the Westminster Abbey performance will be its first in the UK.

A reworking of an old Yiddish folk-song written by Martin Rosenberg for a secret choir in the Sachsenhausen camp, before his death at Auschwitz, is also being performed. The song was written down from memory after the war by Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a fellow-prisoner in Sachsenhausen, who went on to become a respected scholar and performer of the music of the camps.

The service will also see the singing of the stirring Zog nit Keynmol (Never say this is the final road for you) – often referred to as the Hymn of the Jewish partisans. The melody comes from a Soviet song composed by Dmitri Pokrass, but the words were by written Hirsh Glik, a young Lithuanian Jew who wrote many poems in Yiddish.


Hirsh Glik

He wrote the song’s lyrics while captive in the Vilna ghetto, in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius, where he took part in the 1942 ghetto uprising. The song, inspired by the bravery of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, was adopted by Jewish resistance groups fighting alongside Soviet partisans. Glik himself disappeared – probably killed by German soldiers – following his escape from a concentration camp in Goldpilz, Estonia.

Leading representatives of the Jewish faith and of other groups persecuted at Auschwitz, together with descendants of those who liberated the camp, will form part of the congregation, including Baroness Julia Neuberger, who will be giving the Address, and three survivors of Auschwitz,; Renee Salt, Anita Lassker-Wallfisch and Ziggy Shipper.

Reverend Dr James Hawkey, Minor Canon and Precentor of Westminster Abbey, said: “To create or perform a work of beauty in the context of such unbearable horror, is itself a refusal to allow the victory of death and destruction. It is a testimony that life is stronger than death, and that light will always overcome darkness.”

Finis, by Sir Andrew Motion

Bare facts and staggering multitudes: what hope,

what possible hope left for language with finish?

Light. Knock. Road. Engine. Rail. Truck. Cold. Night.

Whatever these words meant they no longer mean.

*

A conductor’s baton twitches to the left or right:

this one has been selected to die, this one not yet.

Clothes. Belt. Shoes. Watch. Ring. Gold tooth. Hair.

Silence is singing instead from the corpse of a violin.

*

Not to go mad, or to go mad and understand madness,

to gaze steadily on the world with the eyes of Lazarus.

Lager. Barracks. Bunks. Kapos. Musselmans. Chimney.

The mind cannot skip the air and mingles with smoke.

*

Buried in each, the appearance they still remember

but transparent, with no existence in the others near.

Work. Soup. Mud. Work. Snow. Work. Soup. Gone.

The body is murdered over and over devouring itself.

*

A white plain outside under the flight of the crows

and men standing like a spinney of withered trees.

Sky. Cloud. Earth. Grass. Bird. Field. Hedge. Wheat.

Prayer rising and God’s spittle falling on bare heads.

*

What hope, what possible hope for finish? My father,

I wanted to tell you something, but I did not know what.

Language, the tip flickering to and fro, threw out a voice.

A wavering flame…like a speaking tongue…So I set forth… .


World War Two

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