Holocaust Center will host production of opera performed in a concentration camp

In recognition of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center is hosting a special presentation of an opera once performed in a concentration camp.

MAITLAND – It started on Nov. 9 1938. In a night of unspeakable horror, violence, and destruction, Germany carried out a pogrom against its Jewish residents, where Jews were beaten, buildings were destroyed by sledgehammers, and Synagogues were set on fire.

It came to be known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, after the haunting images of the shards of broken glass that littered the streets from the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues that got smashed.

This horrifying night is also seen by many historians as the start of the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler’s campaign to murder Europe’s Jewish population.

Every year in November, the Holocaust Memorial and Resource Education Center in Maitland holds a community commemoration of Kristallnacht at the Rosen Jewish Community Center, during which the community remembers the violent pogroms against the Jewish communities in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9-10 1938, in the hope that by always remembering, the world will never forget, or repeat, this tragedy.

This year, noted Pam Kancher, the Center’s executive director, there is a unique program being planned.

“While we hold this event every year, this one is special — a project 16 years in the making,” Kancher noted in an email. “We are so excited to present the children’s opera ‘Brundibar.’ “ It’s an opera whose initial performances were in a concentration camp.

She noted that it has long been the dream of the Center’s founder, Tess Wise, to bring this performance to Orlando, and this year, as a gift to Wise, the center coordinated with the Opera Orlando and the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestras to make it a reality.

“Brundibar” was written by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krasa in 1938, and was performed 55 times by the children in the Terezin concentration camp in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. The name of the opera comes from a Czech colloquialism meaning a bumblebee, and tells the story of two children who need to raise money to buy milk for their sick mother. However, they are repeatedly stopped from doing so by Brundibar, the town bully.

The original rehearsals for this show started in 1941 at a Jewish orphanage in Prague, and by the winter of 1942 the opera was first performed at the orphanage. By July 1943, nearly all of the children of the original chorus and the orphanage staff had also been transported to Terezen, and on Sept. 23 1943, “Brundibár” premiered in the concentration camp.

In addition, the Holocaust Center will also be presenting “Vedem,” a song-cycle based on a magazine of the same name that was circulated by a group of boys at Terezin.

“Composed by Lori Laitman, the oratorio intertwines original poetry from the magazine and interludes about the boys’ lives to create a musical work that is both inspiring and heartbreaking,” Kancher noted.

The special program with Lori Laitman is on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Holocaust Center. Laitman will be discussing her inspiration and process behind her song cycle. Excerpts will also be presented as a preview performance. This event is free and open to the public.

“Brundibar” is being presented on Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children. This event is being sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, the Kiwanis Club of Orlando, Dr. Phillips Charities, the Homburger Jacobs family, Dr. Mitch and Swantje Levin, Helen Leon, Mary Palmer, and Pat Engelhardt.

Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida is at 851 N. Maitland Ave., Maitland. Call 407-628-0555 or email info@holocaustedu.org for more information.

The anti-Jewish riots that came to be known as the “Night of Broken Glass” was directed at synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes that got plundered and destroyed that night. Kristallnacht also marked was a turning point in the Nazi Party’s anti-Jewish policy, that would build into the Holocaust.

While the attacks were carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians, German authorities looked on without intervening.

More than 1,000 synagogues were burned and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..

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About Michael W Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."
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