Tuesday, June 14: The Living Legacy

What can we, today, make of the horrors of Terezin and the Holocaust?

The Living Legacy

Yesterday you could read about Viktor Ullmann, the Czech composer who composed and performed in the Terezín work camp, and who in 1944, after two days in the Auschwitz death camp, was put to death.

Only now are some of his works being discovered … and re-discovered. And he is only one of many Czech composers and musicians who were sent to such camps during World War II.

As a line from Ullmann’s opera The Emperor of Atlantis says, “In sunshine and in strong wind flowers will bloom on mountain meadows.” Great works can bloom not only in the most favorable conditions, but even in the midst of the most horrific hardships. So how can such artists and their works not only be preserved, but re-introduced as legitimate subjects which also stand on their own credentials?

The Terezín Music Foundation, founded in 1990, is dedicated to a number of projects centering around music and the arts from the period of the Holocaust. Its main mission is to document, preserve, and advance “the resilience of the human spirit,” according to Mark Ludwig, the founding director, with the Holocaust as its source of inspiration.

The Foundation sponsors archival research at both Terezín and at the State Jewish Museum in Prague. Mr Ludwig has created a digital archive of hundreds of documents concerning the lives and works of these composers, as well as recordings of the oral history of survivors who attended or performed in these concerts at the work camp.

The Foundation also sponsors research in Israel, Germany, and the US, hoping to uncover more lost music, photographs, and letters, especially while survivors still exist and before paper artifacts deteriorate or are otherwise eventually misplaced or destroyed.

A program from a concert performed by and for prisoners at Terezín work camp, 1944

The Foundation sponsors the commission of chamber music compositions by emerging composers in order to create an ongoing contribution to the chamber music repertoire, but also to serve as agents of inspiration, healing, and transformation for future generations of both artists and audiences, according to the Foundation’s website.

The annual Terezín Legacy Commission prize and concert, in cooperation with the Prague Spring International Music Festival, was established by the Foundation in 2009. The award includes a financial prize and a premiere performance in a Prague Spring concert.

Thus, the Terezín Music Foundation builds upon the starting point provided by the Terezín composers and musicians. It’s not just a memorial to those who perished, but also a living legacy examining issues such as intolerance, human rights, and artistic freedom, through music and dialog.

In sunshine and in strong wind flowers will bloom on mountain meadows. –oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Terezín program: The Antonín Dvořák Exhibit, Czech Museum of Music, by Miroslav Setnička

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