A French connection

‘The Shoa and the Little Prince’ will be performed in Tel Aviv

Roses and a prince. Illustration and photo Inbal Leitner (photo credit: INBAL LEITNER)
Roses and a prince. Illustration and photo Inbal Leitner
(photo credit: INBAL LEITNER)
As Jews, the Holocaust continues to pervade much of our life in Israel and elsewhere, whether or not we have a direct blood connection with that cataclysmic era. There have, of course, been countless feature and documentary films based on the Holocaust, as well as reams of fiction and nonfiction books, but Sarah Shoham has found a surprising thematic link with a gem of 20th-century literature.
That will be presented, in visually and sonically esthetic formats, on April 20 when the Enav Center in Tel Aviv hosts the performance of Shoham’s The Shoa and the Little Prince.
The 70-year-old composer and choir director has garnered numerous official kudos, including the Prime Minister’s Award for Composition and prizes from the Czech government, as well as from France and Belgium. Thursday’s show features the seasoned Li-Ron Choir children’s ensemble, conducted by Ronit Shapira, with additional vocal ensemble offerings provided by the Bertini Choir, which will perform a musical version of excerpts from Death Fugue by 20th-century German-speaking Romanian-born Jewish poet Paul Celan. It is a chilling work about life in a concentration camp. Celan’s parents perished at the hands of the Nazis.
This is a substantial project, the substructure of which began life quite a few years ago. Shoham’s The Little Prince CD, with the Li-Ron Choir, came out 14 years ago, and the work has gradually evolved over the years and now takes in a multidisciplinary artistic stratigraphy, including video art and documentary footage from World War II.
The show at the Enav Center stars operatic tenor Guy Mannheim, who portrays a number of characters from The Little Prince, written in 1943 by French author and pioneer aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Amnon Bahm is also on board for the show, in the role of the author, with behind-the-scenes work provided by animator Dudu Shalita, illustrator Inbal Leitner, artist Sarah Meltzer, and video artist and sound editor Shmulik Kobalski. Narrator slots will be filled by Vered Mezig and Shoham herself, which will be augmented by English subtitles. Peretz Horshati, who created illustrations for The Shoa and the Little Prince, died in January at the age of 96. Horshati, who lived in Eilat, was a Polish-born Holocaust survivor.
Shoham is an unabashed fan of Saint-Exupéry’s iconic work and considers it a deep and formative influence on her life and work.
“The Little Prince is a boy who constantly asked ‘What is real and what is not? Who lives according to the truth, and who lies to themselves?’ Those are questions which philosophers bring up,” she observes.
But we are not going to go the academic route here. Shoham believes The Little Prince offers a street-level guide to life with which anyone, regardless of walk of life, cultural background or formal education, can connect with and learn from. She cites the rogues’ gallery of undesirable characters in the book.
“There is the businessman who is only interested in numbers and in financial wealth,” she says. “The Little Prince asked him what the point of all his money is and counting more and more stars – the stars are a money equivalent. The Little Prince doesn’t get an answer, but he persists until the businessman eventually tells him that he counts the stars, writes the total down on a piece of paper and locks it away in a drawer in the bank. So he doesn’t do anything with all his wealth that helps the world.”
It is not too difficult to work out the moral of the episode.
“The boy tells the businessman he has one flower which he waters and protects and that he weeds the soil,” Shoham continues. “I think that is a powerful statement about the materialistic world in which we live.”
The composer notes that the book also has something to say about our celebrity- and media-oriented world.
“There is the conceited man who only wants people to applaud him all the time. To begin with, the Little Prince is happy to applaud him, but after a while he tires of it and tells the man that he is the only person on his planet and that the applause is meaningless. But the man begs the boy to admire him. That’s pathetic,” she comments.
In regard to the Holocaust theme of the Saint-Exupéry work and the writer’s own Jewish ties, Shoham says the book is dedicated to Leon Werth, who was Saint- Exupéry’s soul mate.
“Leon Werth was Jewish and he fled Paris, with millions of other people, when the Germans invaded. He hid somewhere near the Swiss border, and the farmers there didn’t expose him to the Gestapo because the villagers knew Werth and his family. From there, Werth wrote to the French Resistance about the horrors of Auschwitz,” she recounts.
It is, says Shoham, invaluable food for thought.
“The whole world needs to be concerned about anti-Semitism in order to protect itself. We need to tell the world about the Shoa, not just for the Jewish people but for the whole world. Now we can see that anti-Semitism is not just against Jews. This book is the most relevant thing I can talk about – for the world now and for future generations,” she explains.
Shoham feels that we need to be constantly on our toes, as inferred in the book.
“The Little Prince talks about keeping the evil baobab trees under control – getting ridding of them when they are still small and can be dealt with. Would anyone have looked at the infant Hitler and considered doing something about him?” she says.
While Shoham is not suggesting we should do away with babies who might grow up to be bad people, her point is clear.
“We have to weed out the evil things so we don’t arrive at a situation of war. When the baobab is small, it looks just like a rose bush. All looks fine, but later you find you can’t stop it,” she says.
The composer has been deeply immersed in the book for a long time.
“I have read it in different languages, and I keep going back to it,” she says. “There are so many important messages and so many levels to it.”
Shoham believes we can learn a lesson about priorities in life.
“The characters in the book address their non-authentic needs because they don’t live according to the truth. That won’t ever give them satisfaction. This is a humanitarian book that touches us all,” she says.
It also puts one in mind of what Passover might be all about – divesting ourselves of all the hametz, our perceived superficial needs.
‘The Shoa and the Little Prince’ will be performed on April 20 at the Enav Center in Tel Aviv. Some of the documentary footage in the show may be disturbing, so there is an age limit of 16 and over. For tickets: *3221, (03) 521-7766 and http:// kupat-bravo.co.il/announce/buy/87252.