Terezin legacy to be honored at Zankel

Posted by Rachel Kim

On May 7 and 8 Choral Director Janet McGhee will lead the Battenkill Chorale in presenting "Voices of Hope and Remembrance: Honoring the Legacy of Terezin."

Terezin is a town located north of Prague that was transformed by the Nazis into a Jewish ghetto and transport camp that held up to 60,000 prisoners at a time until the Nazis deported them to death camps.

"They had this spiritual transformation coupled with defiance. Defiance and determination that until the day they died, they were going to live," McGhee said.

The story of those who were imprisoned at Terezin is particularly unique because of all the intellectual and artistic pursuits that survived the horrors of the concentration camp.

Prisoners at Terezin bravely and defiantly created works of art, poetry, theater and music, despite the unspeakable horrors that they faced.

"I can't think of anywhere else, anytime else, anyplace else where that has happened to the extent that it happened at Terezin," McGhee said.

McGhee's personal history with Terezin goes back to the spring of April 2006 when the college's chorus joined the Battenkill Chorale in singing "The Flowers" as a part of the annual memorial that the choir holds for the victims of the Holocaust.

Composer Thomas Oboe Lee wrote "The Flowers" after being inspired by the story of Terezin.

It was at this performance that McGhee met Edgar Krasa, a 90-year-old survivor of both the Tenezin and Auschwitz concentration camps.

"I met him at that event and he was so inspiring. It was here at Skidmore that I was first introduced to Terezin, to Edgar, to what had happened," she said.

Krasa lived with his roommate, Rafael Schaechter, at Terezin and together they became the driving musical life force at the camp. They created and sang in their musical productions until Edgar was sent to Auschwitz.

After surviving the infamous death march from Auschwitz and successfully escaping from the Nazis, Krasa returned to the town of Terezin and was reunited with his family.

Today, Krasa devotes his life to educating people about the Holocaust. Due to his age, Krasa will not be able to travel to Saratoga Springs, but the performances will feature a filmed interview.

The program includes the Bennington Children's Chorus who will be delivering a musical performance of the poem "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," which was written by the children imprisoned at Terezin.

The event will also feature music written by Jewish composers Franz Schubert, Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Weill, Eric Whitacre, Max Janowski and Max Lewandowsky.

McGhee formed the Battenkill Chorale 16 years ago. The chorus collaborated with the college last spring for the choral debut of Zankel.

Battenkill Chorale will be touring in Prague and Vienne this summer. One of their stops include Terezin, where the chorus perform a memorial concert.

"Most people don't know about it. And as soon as I knew that I was going to be traveling to Prague with a bunch of singers I thought, ‘We've got to tell this story and help tell this story,'" McGhee said.

Tickets for the general audience are now on sale for $15. Call (518) 692-7458 or email jen.braucher@gmail.com to purchase. Admission for students is free and tickets are now available at Zankel.

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