Lest we forget: Remembering Terezin recalls the hope that existed despite Holocaust

This drawing was done at Thereisenstadt Ghetto during the Second World War by the Czech illustrator Bedřich Fritta.

On Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, the Jewish owned business were smashed by Nazi thigs across Germany. It was a sign of things to come. As we remember the wars of the 20th century, on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, a concert event will recall the horror of the Holocaust and the power of art. The event sponsored by the German Embassy as part of its annual Holocaust Commemoration will feature the words of a survivor of the Theresienstadt Ghetto named George Brady, who died recently in Toronto. He was a well-known advocate and spokesperson for Holocaust remembrance and reconciliation between Germans and Jews. Brady was awarded the Order of Merit of Germany. His daughter Lara will speak about her father on Sunday.

George Brady was a survivor of the Thereisenstadt Ghetto.

The event on Sunday will also include the Ottawa debut of music written by the Israeli-American violinist and composer Ittai Shapira. The piece called The Ethics is based on music created by the Jewish composers who perished at Theresienstadt. Accompany Shapira in Sunday will be the pianist Constanze Beckman, who has played a major role in the development of the project, and McGill University’s Schulich Singers, led by the Ottawa Choral Society’s Jean-Sébastien Vallée.

Shapira answered some questions about his project from ARTSFILE.

Q. Ittai, please tell me a bit about yourself.

A. I grew up in Israel, where I studied the violin with the renowned pedagogue, Ilona Feher. I moved to New York as a teenager to study at the Juilliard School, where my main teachers were Dorothy DeLay, Naolo Tanaka, and Rober Mann.

Israeli-American violinist and composer Ittai Shapira.

Q. Tell me about when music entered your life and why you are a concert musician and composer?

A. I heard a friend play the violin as a child and was captivated by the sound; for most of my life, I toured as a violin soloist. Composition began regularly only 10 years ago, first continuing the virtuoso-composer tradition which ended in the early 20th century, but it took on an interest in music of different cultures and how it can help people on an educational, societal and medical level.  I started an organization for this purpose:  soundpotential.org

Q. This is a time when we remember the tragedy of war including the Holocaust. Has your family been touched by the tragedy?

A. My grandmother’s family perished in the Holocaust, and my main violin teacher, Ilona Feher, was a Holocaust survivor.  Part of the motivation to compose this piece was inspired by my desire to find out if she was at Theresiesnstadt.

Q. I’m wondering if you can tell me a bit about George Brady? 

A. My colleague, Constanze Beckmann, offers this description of him: “I was asked by her Excellency German Ambassador to Canada Sabine Sparwasser to curate the musical portion for the concerts in memory of the late George Brady.

“Unfortunately, I never met him. I feel very fortunate to have met his daughter Lara Brady who spoke at the concert in Toronto as part of Holocaust Education Week and she will also speak again at the concert on Sunday in Ottawa.

A young George Brady.

“In the Theresienstadt ghetto there was a group of about 40 boys aged between 13 and 15 who, under the guidance of a gifted teacher named Valtr, founded the imaginary Republic of Škid. In the midst of a concentration camp the boys built a state that was democratic and respected human rights. The democratic government of the republic Skid had its own chairman and council, there were parliamentary sessions in which the ideals and needs of the boys were discussed. The magazine VEDEM was the newspaper of the Republic and a real bulletin. It was hidden and survived the Holocaust. The teacher Valtr and many of the boys did not: most died in concentration camps and on death marches. One of the boys who survived was George Brady.

“George Brady was liberated in Auschwitz; after the war he emigrated to Canada, founded a family and became a successful businessman in Toronto. He never spoke about the Holocaust until a Japanese teacher, who researched individual stories of young people in Auschwitz, spoke to him about his sister Hana who had been murdered there. Together with this teacher, George Brady, by then 70 years of age, began to teach about the Holocaust. His story and that of his sister was described in the book Hana’s Suitcase. The book is now on the curriculum of schools in many countries. During the last 20 years of his life, George Brady became a famous advocate for Holocaust remembrance and reconciliation between Germans and Jews. He died this year at the age of 91.

Constanze Beckmann will play on Sunday at Dominion-Chalmers.

“The concert will include readings from George Brady’s memories, poems and articles from VEDEM will be recited and the history of the Republic of Skid will be told – as an example of humanity and the survival of ideals in an environment of inhumanity. It also speaks about the importance of education.

Q. Ittai, what is the inspiration for The Ethics. When did you compose it?

A. I wrote The Ethics in 2015 in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Theresienstadt. It is inspired by Brundibar, the children’s opera that was performed at Theresienstadt. It literally gave them a reason to go on living, and literally saved their lives.

Q. Tell me about the debut in 2015 at Carnegie Hall and how it continues to be played?

A. The concert was an awareness concert at Carnegie Hall for a humanitarian organization that educates minority rights, called Humanity in Action. The initial staging of the project was co-commissioned by the Blavatnik and Krueger Foundations. I have performed it at Washington D.C.’s American University and at the Florida Holocaust Museum since.

Q. Please tell me about the concert in Ottawa on Nov. 10. 

A. I am performing with  superb colleagues. I am delighted that pianist and curator Constanze Beckmann asked me to perform with her for the Holocaust Education Week in Canada in 2019. We are joined by the Schulich Singers of McGill University, a superb choir, masterfully conducted by Jean Sebastien Vallee.

Q. I’m sure this piece is very meaning full to you. Can you explain that?

A. The piece is very meaningful to me because of the history in responds too, but as the project continues to develop, it is particularly touching and humbling for me that youthful and experienced colleagues continue to develop this in such a dedicated way on on a high level. As a composer, that is what I hope for!

Remembering Terezin: A Holocaust Remembrance Event
Where: Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre
When: Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.
This is a free event but you must register. Information: eventbrite.com

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.