The PtJA team was heavily involved in, and deeply committed to, a number of high-profile Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in January, reaching a total audience of thousands.
For what is the culmination of the UK’s HMD events, Stephen Muir conducted the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds as part of the UK Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day on 26 January at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster. It was held in the presence of 200 Holocaust and genocide survivors and around 1,000 guests. Attended by the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury, and with special addresses by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid MP, and Holocaust survivor Hannah Lewis, Stephen and the Choir performed Mogen owos, by Josef Gottbeter. A full report, and videos, can be seen here: http://hmd.org.uk/news/uk-commemorative-ceremony-holocaust-memorial-day-2017
Commemorative events for this year’s HMD, with its theme of ‘How can life go on?’, commenced earlier than in previous years, starting with a prestigious concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, Music on the brink of destruction. Curated by Shirli Gilbert (Associate Professor of History at the University of Southampton), the sold-out concert, recorded by the BBC, launched the ORT Marks Fellowships to support continued research on music connected with the Holocaust.
The concert opened with the Clothworkers Consort, under Stephen Muir, performing a selection of songs from the Nazi ghettos, reflecting research undertaken by PtJA’s Joseph Toltz. Also performed was Dovid Ayznshtat’s cantata Chad gadya, discovered in South Africa by Stephen Muir, and featured in previous PtJA-related concerts. Receiving its UK premiere was Gideon Klein’s Topol (‘The Poplar Tree’), a melodrama for narrator and piano, uncovered by David Fligg in the Prague Jewish Museum archives. It was narrated by David, accompanied by the pianist Vera Müllerová, who premiered it in Pilsen as part of the PtJA’s Czech festival in September, and who travelled from the Czech Republic specially for this concert. Vera also performed a collection of solo piano works by Josima Feldschuh. PtJA’s Teryl Dobbs is currently leading on research connected to Josima, the 12 year-old pianist-composer prodigy of the Warsaw Ghetto. These piano pieces, as well as the choral items, were later broadcast on Radio 3 on 23 and 24 January, and Klein’s Topol is scheduled for later broadcast. Linked to, and with the same name as, the Wigmore concert, was Shirli Gilbert’s Radio 3 documentary on 22 January which featured David Fligg discussing Gideon Klein. The Podcast of the programme can be downloaded here from the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04qh6jd) The full report of the concert is available on the Jewish Chronicle’s website (https://www.thejc.com/culture/music/melodies-saved-from-the-ashes-1.431324)
The grandly ornate Leeds Town Hall was the setting for the Leeds Civic Holocaust Remembrance Service on 22 January, at which, as in previous years, members of the Clothworkers Consort, with Stephen Muir, provided the music. This year they performed Baruch Gutman’s beautiful Jisgadal. The service was opened by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Gerry Harper, with a keynote address by Leeds North East MP, Fabian Hamilton.
For the Royal Northern College of Music’s respected Sir John Manduell Research Forum, HMD was marked by a special seminar, Performing a Holocaust Archive, on 25 January. Lisa Peschel presented the Purimspiel finale by Walter Freud that she discovered in Israel, wonderfully performed by RNCM students Rachel Fright (piano) and singers Rachel Speirs, Stuart Orme, Matthew Nuttall and Jacob Newsham. David Fligg discussed his dramatisation, Gideon Klein – Portrait of a Composer, whilst RNCM’s Head of Composition, Prof. Adam Gorb, who has previously collaborated in PtJA activities, talked about his forthcoming, and as yet untitled, opera which will have a Holocaust-related story-line, and which will be premiered in Leeds next year.
Meanwhile, on 29 January, over a thousand miles north east from the UK, at Finland’s Limmud in Helsinki – the country’s largest Jewish cultural learning event – Simo Muir was interviewing Holocaust survivor Nena Kafka, and talking about his book No more letters from Poland (http://www.bonnierrights.fi/books/no-more-letters-from-poland-fatal-years-for-a-jewish-family/4). Mrs Kafka, native of Kozigłowy, Poland, survived the death marches and Bergen-Belsen and settled in Finland after the war. She was an honorary guest of the national Holocaust Memorial Day event held at the House of the Estates in Helsinki.
The final HMD event to involve the PtJA was the Leeds Jewish Community’s own commemoration, a joint event between the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue and the Leeds Jewish Representative Council. Theatre in the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto: The Survivors Speak, was the title of Lisa Peschel’s fascinating and often moving talk, preceded by David Fligg presenting an overview of PtJA activities to the capacity audience. The evening was attended by Jonathan Arkush (President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews), and the Board’s Vice President, Marie van der Zyl. Rabbi Jason Kleinman recited the El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer, and Rudi Leavor who, along with his family, escaped Berlin in 1938, lit the Yahrzeit (memorial) candle.
Reviews about the Wigmore Hall concert: