Czech premiere of Song of Terezin marks Holocaust Remembrance Day|
Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked around Europe on January 27, the
anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Here in Prague
the day has been marked by the country's first ever performance of the
Song of Terezin, an oratorio written by the German-American composer Franz
Waxman which is based on poems written by children imprisoned at the
Terezin ghetto (known in German as Theresienstadt). The performance,
co-sponsored by Czech and Austrian agencies, took place on Tuesday
afternoon at the State Opera. A day before the premiere I spoke to Tomas
Jelinek, the chairman of Prague's Jewish Community, and began by asking
him how the idea of putting on the first Czech performance of the Song of
Terezin had come about.
"About six months ago we were approached by Maria Berger, who is an
Austrian member of the European Parliament, and also a member of the
Mauthausen Committee in Austria. She came with the idea of doing this
performance in the Czech Republic. Originally she wanted to do it at
Terezin, but because the Prague Jewish Community and other Jewish
organisations, and Roma organisations, decided in 2002 to celebrate
Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, we were thinking [putting on the
Song of Terezin in Prague] would be a very nice and appropriate cultural
event which should accompany this day."
Who do you expect will go to the performance? I know it's on at 2 o'clock
in the afternoon.
"We've already invited people so we know exactly who will come. We
will have a few hundred Holocaust survivors, people who have personal
experience of the Terezin ghetto and many other camps in Poland and
elsewhere in Central Europe. We invited hundreds of pupils from schools
and high schools. We also invited members of Parliament and members of the
government, and we will have important guests from Austria. Heinz Fischer,
the president of the Austrian Parliament, will come and speak on behalf of
Are they ordinary school kids from ordinary schools or are they Jewish
kids, or Roma kids?
"We also invited kids from the Jewish school, the only Jewish school
in the Czech Republic, but most of the kids will come from schools which
in the past had some contacts with Holocaust education programmes, with
the Terezin Initiative, with Terezin memorial programmes and with the
educational centre of the Prague Jewish Museum."
When you say you started marking Holocaust Remembrance Day two years ago,
was it a difficult thing to start organising, to start marking it here in
the Czech Republic?
"No, it was very natural. Because [the liberation of] Auschwitz
connected the tragic history of the Czech Jews and the Czech Roma
community. We saw it as a very natural event. Also in the year 2000 the
Auschwitz Committee in the Czech Republic appealed to the Czech Parliament
to recognise this day as a special day on the Czech calendar.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to see that this day would be already
recognised for this special event which will happen tomorrow. But we hope
it's an issue of a few months, that the day will be recognised for the