koi sidebar

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 1, March 2019

Steve Andrews’ “The Suitcase," a Personal Commentary by Gerry Jacobson

Thank you, Steve, for telling your story about the concentration camp Terezin. Those 150 choristers, all fated for premature death. Whether they knew this or not, rehearsing and performing the Verdi Requiem must have held them together, given them hope, during those two years in Terezin.

I look at the dates Steve has quoted, and intersperse those of my grandfather Louis H, gleaned from Holocaust archives.

January 1942: First performance of the Verdi Requiem in Terezin.

August 1942: Louis H and his wife Ester, German Jews, are transported to Terezin from their home in East Prussia.

January 1943: Louis H dies in the camp.

16 May 1944: Ester H transported from Terezin to Auschwitz.

16 October 1944: Last (15th?) performance of the Requiem in Terezin. October 1944: Choir and its conductor transported to Auschwitz.

I wonder if my grandfather was at a performance of the Verdi "Requiem" in those last few months of his life. It is possible that an Orthodox Jew would not go; it is a full-on requiem mass, very Catholic, although it sounds like grand opera. If music was important to him he would have attended. I never met him and don’t know how orthodox he was, or whether he loved music.

I have sung in the chorus of the Requiem a number of times in Canberra, my home town. I love it and I’m always ready to sing it again. Next time I will sing for that unknown grandfather; and think of Rafael Schacter who conducted it in a cold dark place.

Verdi ...
it’s warm and cosy
on stage
two hundred choristers
one buttock on each seat

Steve Andrews
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, USA

The Suitcase

30 November 1941—Occupied Prague: Rafael Schacter, a Jewish pianist and conductor, is ordered by the Nazis to proceed to the railway station, where he and dozens of other Prague artists, musicians, and writers are transported to Terezin, an ancient, walled garrison city about 40 miles away. In his suitcase, he has his clothes and several musical scores, including Giuseppi Verdi's Requiem.

his leather chair
and books on the shelves
like old friends . . .
he turns at the door
for a final look

Terezin is billed by the Nazis as a modern Jewish settlement but is, in reality, a concentration camp filled with thousands upon thousands of Czech Jews. Once there, Schacter wastes no time. Although the Nazis have forbidden Jews to own musical instruments or to practice any artistic endeavors, he discovers a concrete-lined basement under an abandoned barracks and smuggles in a piano found elsewhere in the city. He then assembles a choir of about 150 inmates and begins teaching them the Latin lyrics of Verdi's Requiem Mass. The Nazis soon discover Schacter's efforts but allow him to continue, knowing that Terezin is merely a staging point for the transport of Jews to the death camps further east.

January 1942—Terezin: Schacter and his choir hold their first performance of the Requiem, a complex and hauntingly beautiful piece of choral music. Over the next two years, the work will be presented fourteen more times. The size of the choir dwindles with each train departure.

16 October 1944—Terezin: The Nazis stage a demonstration for the International Red Cross, forcing Schacter to perform the Requiem a final time, now with only 60 choir members. Schacter and his singers hope that at least some of the members of the Red Cross will understand Latin and the words of defiance being sung.

When the judge takes his seat
All that is hidden shall appear
Nothing will remain unavenged

17 October 1944—Terezin: Most members of the choir, including Schacter, are marched to the nearby train station and herded onto railway cattle cars for their journey to Auschwitz. As the train begins to move, a guard hurls Schacter's suitcase into a separate car.

a train unseen
by averted eyes . . .
ears still hear
its rumbling boxcars
and shrieking whistle



| contents page | next |

koi sidebar r