Dr. Joseph Toltz: Brundibar–Children’s Opera in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: How many times was the children’s opera Brundibar performed in the Terezin concentration camp?
On January 27, Europe commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day. This date was chosen because it’s the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops in 1945. This year, English Corner is commemorating this day with a program about the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic, and a children’s opera that was performed there. By 1940 Germany assigned the Gestapo to adapt the Czech town of Terezín, better known by the German name Theresienstadt, as a ghetto and concentration camp. While it was not a death camp, tens of thousands died, largely from malnutrition and disease. In June, 1944, after D-Day and the invasion of Normandy, the Nazis permitted representatives from the International Red Cross to visit Theresienstadt in order to dispel rumors about the extermination camps. Weeks of preparation preceded the visit. The area was cleaned up, and the Nazis deported many Jews to Auschwitz to minimize the appearance of overcrowding in Theresienstadt. The Nazis directed the building of fake shops and cafés to imply that the Jews lived in relative comfort. The Red Cross representatives were led by the Nazis on a tour following a predetermined path, and the residents were not permitted to speak with them directly. The guests attended a performance of a children’s opera, Brundibár, which was written by inmate Hans Krása. The opera was rediscovered in the 1970s, and performed in several countries. Among these, an ambitious project was undertaken in Sydney, Australia. In 2014, to mark the 70th anniversary of Brundibár’s final performance inside the Terezin Ghetto, the opera was performed in Sydney for the very first time in a fully staged production that brought Sydney school children and wider audiences together with local Terezin survivors.
Dr. Joseph Toltz, the production’s musical director, is a recognized ethnomusicologist and researcher on music and trauma internationally, having completed his doctorate on the intersection between music and memory in Holocaust survivors. A former fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, he is currently Honorary Research Associate, adjunct lecturer and tutor at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the University of Sydney. Dr Toltz is a significant figure in the Sydney Jewish community, having served for fourteen years as Cantor of the largest non-Orthodox synagogue in Australia. Dr. Toltz spoke with us about Brundibar and the Sydney Brundibar Project.
MORE ABOUT BRUNDIBÁR: Watch a report on Terezin survivors and Brundibár broadcast by the CBS TV program 60 Minutes in 2007. Watch a performance of the entire opera that was done in Cape Town, presented by The Cape Town Holocaust Centre, Cape Town Opera and Artscape.