Voices of defiance
Survivors’ rights warrior Stu Eizenstat feels ‘Defiant Requiem,’ performed at Israel Festival, shows courage of Theresienstadt musicians.
Conductor Murray Sidlin Photo: Alex Irvine
Seeing Verdi’s Requiem performed in Terezin, the Czech Republic, the site of the
Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II, was “the most emotional
event of my life,” said Stu Eizenstat, special advisor on Holocaust issues to US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
After being so moved by this
multimedia performance, which includes testimony by Holocaust survivors who
performed the piece while they were being held at Theresienstadt (the piece is
now known as the Defiant Requiem), Eizenstat joined the board of directors of
the Defiant Requiem Foundation to help this show continue its journey around the
He is coming to Israel to see a multimedia performance of the
Defiant Requiem performed today at the International Convention Center in
Jerusalem as part of the Israel Festival.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” he said
in an interview from his Washington office at the law firm of Covington and
Burling, where he heads the international practice.
Verdi’s Requiem was
performed at the Theresienstadt camp during World War II by the inmates. These
inmates were formed into a chorus by fellow prisoner Rafael Schächter, and, in
spite of the hardships, they performed Verdi’s Requiem 16
Schächter and many of those inmates were eventually sent on to
Auschwitz and other death camps, from which they did not return. But the memory
and spirit of their music lives on through Defiant Requiem, both a recreation
and enhancement of their achievement.
The Defiant Requiem was created by
Murray Sidlin, who will conduct it at the Israel Festival performance. Sidlin is
dean of the School of Music at the Catholic University of America in Washington,
DC. The piece will be performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Kühn
Choir of Prague, soloist singers Ira Bertman, Yotam Cohen, Assaf Levitin and
Bracha Kol and actors Sasson Gabai and Yona Elian.
There will soon be a
film of the work, so those who cannot attend the concerts can see it and learn
more about it.
Eizenstat has had a distinguished career working for the
US government, including stints as chief White House domestic policy adviser to
President Jimmy Carter; US ambassador to the European Union; and deputy
secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration.
But no matter
what position he held, he has always been involved in issues relating to the
Holocaust, particularly in making sure that survivors are compensated for what
“As a special representative to the secretary of state, I
negotiated the return of $8 billion in Holocaust-era assets from Swiss banks,”
explains Eizenstat, who also secured compensation for survivors who worked as
slave laborers, and drafted legislation that helped return stolen art to its
But although throughout his career Eizenstat has spoken
to dozens (perhaps hundreds) of Holocaust survivors, he was not prepared for the
“I knew that Theresienstadt had been a transit camp for
thousands of Jewish musicians, scholars, artists and rabbinical experts. There
was a remarkable profusion of culture there.
And the Defiant Requiem is
the best example of that,” he said.
Although the performances at the camp
during the war were not an armed rebellion, “the survivors said ‘it was our act
of defiance.’ They said, ‘We’re going to sing to them what we can’t say to
them.’” Eizenstat, who is the author (with Elie Wiesel) of Imperfect Justice:
Looted Assets, Slave Labor and the Unfinished Business of World War II, says
that while every performance of Defiant Requiem has been special in its own way,
it is especially critical for the piece to be performed in Israel.
important that young Israelis understand that resistance and courage can take
different forms. There are different ways of defining courage.
own way they [those who performed at the concentration camp] were showing
courage and defiance – underground defiance. It was a spiritual and artistic
rebellion. People say it kept them alive. It nourished the soul.”
out more about the Israel Festival and to order tickets, go to the festival
website at http://www.israel-festival.org.il.