Lenka Lichtenberg’s THIEVES OF DREAMS: Poetry from the Holocaust
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: How many of Lenka’s grandmother’s poems talk about the situation of the Jews in the concentration camps?
Lenka Lichtenberg is a musician, composer, and producer. She was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her mother was a child when she was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentraton camp with her mother. Fortunately both survived. Lenka was born in Prague after the war and as a child sang in musical theatre and then studied classical music at the Prague Music Conservatory, specializing in voice. She later relocated to Canada, where she studied Education and Ethnomusicology at university.
Upon the recent passing of her mother, Lenka discovered two worn booklets of poetry tucked away under piles of paper in her Prague apartment. The haunting, disturbing poems, written by Lenka’s grandmother while she was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, carry messages as relevant today as when they were written—with some offering unexpected rays of hope.
Lenka realized that this treasure needed to be brought to life, and the “Thieves of Dreams” project was born. With grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, Lenka wrote the script and composed the music for eight of the 16 tracks and assembled an accomplished team of Czech and Canadian women composers who wrote the music for the remaining ones. The arrangements feature 19 recording artists from Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany. The final project will exist in multiple art forms, which will include a second disc with English translations of the poems, a hybrid live and virtual multimedia stage production, and a poetry book in Czech and English featuring illustrations by Milli Janatkova and Lenka’s grandmother’s original ink drawings.
HERE ARE SOME MORE EXCERPTS FROM THIEVES OF DREAMS, WITH NOTES BY LENKA LICHTENBERG:
1. Chtela jsem te proklit/ I Wanted to Curse You, Bitter Land
A song about betrayal, as felt by Jews when laws were enacted against them and they were deported and murdered, and their beloved Czech ‘homeland’ and until then, friendly neighbours, were completely silent and just allowed it to happen. There is a note of acceptance, coming to terms with it- somehow without bitterness, at the end of the song.
Composed by Czech artist Milli Janatkova. Also, can be found on YOUTUBE as a video she filmed directly in Terezin: https://youtu.be/r8qVUM26Hdk
2. Divoka, drava voda / Wild, Beastly Water
A metaphor for Nazi occupation, as a wild flood that destroyed everything in its path, peoples’ lives and dreams. With an interesting twist in the lyrics at the end, saying philosophically that everything does go to ruin over time, giving a chance to a new world and people to emerge from the destruction ultimately. The poetess seems to find peace and solace in this perspective.
Composed by Lenka Lichtenberg, trumpet David Buchbinder
3. Zeneme cas/ We’re Chasing Time
A song of defiance – the only one of all the poems that says we (assuming she means us the Jews) will fight, and we will win, defeating the heavy boots that are stomping all over us, trying to destroy us. And WE will lead the world to a better place.
Composed by Lorie Wolf
4. Zvyk, to je prisera / Custom, That Monster
A relationship that is near the end, presumably about my grandmother’s marriage that was broken. Telling the brutal truth because there may not be another chance, on the brink of death – writing this with blood, having lost everything. One of only a couple of completely hopeless poems she wrote.
Composed by Lenka Lichtenberg
5. Mam vlastni trud / I Have My Own Grief
A song connecting 3 generations: poem by Grandma – «I have my own grief but perhaps I can carry yours as well.” Spoken word by Mom – describing how she and her parents had to leave, and hand over the keys to their home in December, 1944, , to be transported to Terezin. And myself, providing the music. It is a devastating, impactful song.
Composed by Lenka Lichtenberg