Remembering the Holocaust: Defiant Requiem. BBC 4, 10pm. Directed by Doug Shultz.
Posted by celticman on Tue, 28 Jan 2014
Watching or reading about the Holocaust, or the horrors of the Japanese prison camps, always makes me hungry. I don’t know if that makes me empathetic or a greedy bastard. I suspect in another life I’d have made quite a good Nazi. I’ve read about Terezin before. It was a half-way house to the hell of Auschwitz and other extermination camps. In buildings that should have held a maximum of 6000 the camp held, in 1942, 60 000 and they kept coming, mainly from Czechoslovakia at 5000 a day. Six hundred to a room with two toilets, cholera was a constant, hunger and the cold a given and death inevitable. Yet of all the camps Terezin was picked at the end of 1943 for a propaganda coup, a visit by the Red Cross. The usual offbeat characters of the old, the young and worn out were sent offstage and up the line, but like those postcards and advertisements appealing to Jews in Austria and Germany to come stay in Terezin, it worked. Some of the footage is spruced up and shown here. Ghosts playing football and a concert featuring a choir of 150 Jews, performing Verdi’s Requiem, conducted by the Czech conductor Rafael Schacter. The Red Cross inspection team left thinking, wow, those Jews had it pretty good. It’s interesting listening to survivors of that choral group bemoaning this deception and wondering what would have happened if the Red Cross group stepped out of line and went left, instead of right, or wandered through one of the gerrymander stores or shop fronts. The answer I suspect would be nothing much. The Allies already knew about the death camps. Similarly, Schacter’s determination as a Jew to transcribe and translate a Latin text and confront the Nazi’s with the mainstay of Roman Catholic belief that they too will be judged by their actions that day and forever, is the kind of folly that led to Stylites and the construction of Gothic cathedrals perched on cliff faces. I’m sure he could have played Shawaddywaddy and it wouldn’t have matter to the Nazis, but it is a beautiful folly and strangely uplifting. Survivor after survivor recalled a special blessing in being part of that choir and transcending self. Murray Sidlin’s determination to gather together an international choir and restage Verdi’s Requiem in the damp and cold cellars of Terezin also makes no sense, but there is resonance and harmony in this kind of universal madness.