Performance commemorates uprisings
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the uprisings in the Warsaw Ghetto, the University hosted a performance in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall this past Sunday. The performance, titled "A Legacy of Endurance and Courage: The Warsaw Ghetto, 1940-43," featured Yiddish songs and historical texts. University President Frederick Lawrence's wife, Prof. Kathy
Lawrence (ENG) narrated the performance, alongside Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, Susanne Klingenstein. A largely adult audience of formally dressed viewers attended and sat diligently through the program, reliving the legacy of those who were imprisoned in the ghetto. For many in the audience, this included departed family and friends.
Klingenstein opened the performance saying, "By telling the story of the Warsaw Ghetto, we've fulfilled the command of passing onto the next generation a story of courage and model behavior." She explained the thoughtful organization of the performance into six segments, each of which highlighted a different part of the history and included a text reading and a musical performance. The program began with a section titled "Jewish Warsaw in the 1930s" and moved to "The Ghetto in 1940-41," "The Ghetto in 1941-42," "The Deportations of 1942," "The Uprisings of January and April 1943" and concluded with "Moral Resistance: One German Officer in 1943-44."
Klingenstein's narration between components of the performance provided a sensitive, compelling narrative of the history in the ghetto. There was a certain reverence in her voice as she explained the severity of the tragedies that occurred in the ghetto to the audience, providing statistical support. The ghetto, she said, was created and sealed off in Warsaw, a place where Jews had been living in peace and prosperity for almost 500 years prior. The Germans forced 400,000 people into the space, which was about three times the size of the Brandeis campus. These numbers average out to almost 30 people living in each shoddy apartment, many of which quickly starved to death.
Though the entire performance moved with an air of gravity and veneration, the musical pieces were performed with a beautiful range of emotional tones, underscoring the personal connection the performers felt to the story they were telling. A professional opera singer, mezzo-soprano Sophie Michaux, delivered several soulful renditions of Yiddish songs that were written and sung in the ghetto, showing the passion, desperation and hope that the people clung to as they fought for their lives. Eugenia Gerstein, a music teacher at the
Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, provided piano accompaniment for Michaux's vocals and conducted the Temple Emanuel choir, which came from Newton to perform many of the powerful songs. The might of their voices together, proclaiming the misery and injustice that plagued their people, was a powerful display and a highlight of the overall performance. Young composer and Brookline, Mass. native Jeremiah Klarman accompanied the performances, and Temple Emanuel's Cantor Elias Rosemberg performed alongside the choir as well.
I found the fourth segment of the performance, "The Deportations of 1942," to be one of the most compelling, as Kathy Lawrence read diligently from an excerpt of the diary of Polish-Jewish engineer and Senator to the Nazi-appointed Jewish Council Adam Czerniakow. The diary entry selected was from the last letter Czerniakow wrote to the men whom he worked alongside, explaining his decision to take his own life: he could not bear to execute the Nazis' order to kill the Jewish children in the ghetto. Klingenstein explained that, in the entry's original German, the word that Czerniakow used to describe the mass murders as "wrong" connotes a heavier sense of injustice-that the crimes committed against the Jews in the ghetto were not just crimes against humanity but inexcusable trespasses against God. This reading was followed by the choir's performance of two moving songs, "Dremlen Feygl" and "Butterfly," both composed by people who lived in the ghetto, pitying and cherishing the children who were trapped there. Upon Klingenstein's uttering of "for the children" as she introduced the music, the room fell especially silent.
Though it has been almost three-quarters of a century since the horrific events that occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto, the world will never forget. At the end of the performance, with a quieted, but firm stance, Klingenstein left the audience with something to take away from the memories that were roused by the afternoon, saying wisely: "Only the young can attempt to overcome the vile actions of the past."