Detroit Choirs Honor WWII Concentration Camp Prisoner’s Voices of Resistance

Detroit Choirs Honor WWII Concentration Camp Prisoner’s Voices of Resistance

bccommunitychorsuofdetroitA once-in-a-lifetime concert was presented in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan on May 18, 2014. The Community Chorus of Detroit joined by three choirs, totaling 175 voices; a full orchestra; and Metropolitan Opera soloists, performed Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Their masterful performance paid tribute to the courageous Jewish prisoners in the World War II Nazi concentration camp at Terezin in Czechoslovakia. It honored the imprisoned Czech conductor Rafael Schachter who formed a choir of 150 of his fellow Jewish prisoners to boldly perform Verdi’s Requiem 16 times in 1944 before the very Nazis who had condemned them to death.

Schachter taught the Latin text, which promised divine judgment against evil, to his choir of 150, using a single smuggled score. They performed the Requiem 16 times for a selected group of Nazi officers accompanied only by a single piano. What appeared to be a soaring rendition of a choral masterpiece was intended as a subversive condemnation of the Nazis and a desperate message to the outside world. In the face of horrific living conditions, slave labor, and the constant threat of deportation to Auschwitz, the Jewish inmates of Terezin concentration camp fought back with art and music.

“Apart from the performance of this great music, there is a profound social purpose in our concert presentation,” said Detroit Community Chorus founder Diane Linn. “In commemorating the Verdi Requiem performances by the WWII Terezin concentration camp prisoners, we want to promote greater awareness of this dark history of the 20th Century to the greater Detroit community; to use music as a means to stand — as a united community — for tolerance and human rights, and against prejudice; to build bridges across chronological, geographic, and cultural boundaries in the name of peace, and to give voice to the courageous Terezin singers who perished, but whose message lives on to speak to us today.”

The Community Chorus of Detroit searched the world for descendants of the Terezin singers and invited 83-year-old virtuoso violinist, author and Holocaust survivor Samuel Marder from the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra to serve as assistant concert master. Dr. Edward Maki-Schramm conducted the singers and orchestra. from miles around attended the Detroit concert. They honored history, defiance and resistance to oppression with music.

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