My shoah requiem
began on a sunny afternoon with a bus ride from Prague to Terezin (Theresienstadt)and a visit to the Terezín Memorial. This was a profoundly moving visit that deepened my awareness of the tragic impact of that place on thousands upon thousands of lives. It was here that I purchased a book of children’s poems called I Never Saw Another Butterfly.
Being then resident in Prague, it seemed natural to travel to Krakow and from there to the Auschwitz/Birkenau Memorial. The visit here was even more heartbreaking in scale and inhumanity. It was, for me, a devastating visit, especially when only a few days after visiting Terezín.
Suddenly, I felt I had to write something about this—the only thing I, a composer from the late 20th early 21st century, could reasonably do.
I set to fashioning a large Requiem Mass, but incorporating some poems of the child victims immortalized in I Never Saw Another Butterfly but coupled with some other poems by National Book Award finalist for poetry William Heyen. Bill’s poems in his many books on the Holocaust, but especially his book Shoah Train, allowed me to include some searing, personal and intimate stories of the dehumanizing, destructive force of the Holocaust. These poems also allowed for a kind of tough poetic counterpoint to the Latin Missa Pro Defunctis.
The following year the Introit of the work was premiered in Taranto, Bari and Rome.
The work, as a whole, was far from completed at this early stage, but planning of the whole and especially the textual structure of the work was planned.
I had decided on a structure for an entire concert length memorial exploring the visceral horrors and spiritual responses to those horrors in a seventeen movement structure with a break in the middle.
Structure of shoah requiem
Quid Sum Miser/The Pond*
Offertoium/My Holocaust Songs II*
Agnus Dei/The Legacy*
Break Down [My Holocaust Songs III]*
* Rights to set these texts have been secured through The Jewish Museum Prague, Czech Republic, Time Being Books, St. Louis, Missouri and Etruscan Press, Silver Springs, Maryland.
The whole of my shoah requiem is intended as an interdenominational, cross-generational, multicultural work of respect and remembrance. I have not shied away from some of the extremely confronting images and words in this poetry. I had intended for the work to be extremely confrontational, visceral, imagistic and, as much as can happen through music, transformational. I wanted to write a work that gave reverence to and demonstrated respect for those millions of souls who perished in this tragic period of our human history.
Today, more than ever, we need to remember where tough, divisive, isolationist words lead. They lead to walls, ghettos, victimization, xenophobia and racism. Ultimately they also lead to organized, government sponsored genocide. When more than 40% of young people do not even know that the Holocaust occurred, we have an opportunity to teach and infiltrate minds and hearts with impassioned history and truth.
It is such an impassioned picture of the Holocaust I hope is presented in my work. Not a complete picture to be sure, since for that to be complete the millions of individual stories of suffering, courage, humanity and grace would all need to be told in intimate detail respectful of each human life lost to this monstrous past. What I have hoped to capture in my work are the central questions of faith in the face of determined, organized hate and how such faith is challenged, deepened, questioned, maintained or lost in the tumult of such genocide.
It is my fervent hope that this work may give voice to the now voiceless and motivate resistance towards the voices and ideologies that allow such manifestations of hate to gain traction.