Singing Verdi in Theresienstadt

In 1943, the conductor Raphael Schachter, an inmate at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, mounted a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem with 150 of his fellow prisoners serving as the chorus. An orchestral performance of the same piece, combined with narration and video and entitled “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin” has just finished a tour of the U.S. as one of many recent efforts to recreate music produced or performed by Jews during the Holocaust. Matt Lebovic writes of the original Theresienstadt concert:

Theresienstadt’s Council of Jewish Elders—nominally in charge of the ghetto—was vehemently opposed to Schachter’s productions. Not only were Jews performing a Catholic funeral mass, but it was possible the camp’s Nazi rulers would see an act of defiance and deport the entire cast. It was also said that by performing their own funeral mass, the Jewish prisoners were “apologizing for existing.”

To end the debate, Schachter offered each performer the opportunity to bow out of the production, but not one of them did so. After performing the Requiem fifteen times to enraptured audiences, the inmate choir gathered for what would be its final performance on June 23, 1944.

Seated in the front row was Adolf Eichmann . . . and other SS officials. A Red Cross delegation was also in attendance, as part of its mission to vet the camp for signs of genocide. If only in the minds of the imprisoned choir members, Verdi’s funeral mass was used to condemn the Nazi perpetrators watching their Jewish victims perform. As Schachter most famously told his choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Arts & Culture, Classical music, Holocaust, Theresienstadt

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy