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JMI Online: HMD 2021 – Film: The Music Of Terezin
JMI bring you this definitive film on music and the holocaust to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th, 2021
FILM: The Music of Terezín
Q&A: with Director Simon Broughton
(Drawing above by Helga Weissova-Hoskova)
During World War II, the Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto saw a truly remarkable burst of artistic creativity in the face of adversity. This award-winning film, made by Simon Broughton for the BBC in 1993 is probably the definitive film on Terezín and its music.
Terezín is a small garrison town about 60km northwest of Prague built by the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II in 1780. From 1941-44 in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, it was used as a concentration camp for Czech Jews and others from elsewhere in Europe. It was a staging post for Auschwitz, but although transports regularly left for ‘the east’, those in Terezín didn’t know what that meant.
Unlike Auschwitz, Terezín wasn’t a death camp, although it was so overcrowded and conditions were so bad that nearly one in four inmates died while they were within its walls. Although supervised by the Nazis, it was run by a Council of Jewish Elders. Purely by coincidence, Terezín was full of musicians and artists and a cultural life started, at first in secret and then with the agreement of the Nazis who finally used it for propaganda purposes and invited the Red Cross to see how well they were treating the Jews. Ironically, Terezín was artistically the freest place in occupied Europe. Elsewhere Jewish music was forbidden, so-called ‘degenerate music’ and jazz were banned, but all were played in Terezín. “Only the Germans knew we were sentenced to death,” says Zdenka Fantlová, an actress in the ghetto, “So they let us get on with it and what we were really doing was dancing under the gallows.” In 1944, after the success of the Red Cross deception the Nazis decided to make a propaganda film, which includes some amazing footage of actual musical performances.
The Music of Terezín looks at the four major composers who were writing music in the ghetto – Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Hans Krasa and Viktor Ullmann. They all perished and represent a lost generation in Czech music. It also looks at the way music became a means of sustenance and opposition in these unique circumstances. It includes interviews and performance from the singer Karel Berman who was cast as Death in Ullmann’s opera The Emperor of Atlantis, one of the few pieces that was actually banned in the ghetto because of its satirical nature. Berman died just a few years after this film was made. Other interviewees include the Czech writer Ivan Klíma, who was a child in the ghetto and remembers trying to drop bricks on the rats, pianist Edith Kraus, who premiered one of Ullmann’s piano sonatas in the ghetto, actress Zdenka Fantlová, and pianist Alice Herz-Sommer who just passed away aged 110.
With lots of archive footage, musical performances strikingly shot on location in the attics and cellars of the ghetto and moving personal testimonies, this is a story of musical creativity that resonates way beyond the walls of the ghetto. It’s powerful music that still deserves to be heard today.
Duration: 70 mins
Q&A afterwards with JMI’s Gil Karpas and Director: Simon Broughton featuring recent interview footage with Zdenka Fantlova, author of The Tin Ring.
A BBC/Czech TV co-production 1993
You can watch the programme at 7.30pm GMT on our Facebook page on on our website here at this page or on the front page of this website.