Understanding Music as Resistance During the Holocaust
The film Defiant Requiem tells several stories at once. It introduces students to the remarkable history of Terezín, a concentration camp near Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. At Terezín, more than 100,000 Jews from many countries in Europe were interned by the Nazis from 1941 to 1945. This highly educated and cultured group of people kept their spirits up under these daunting circumstances with an extensive series of concerts, lectures, and theater performances, taking advantage of the interstices. in the repressive system in which they lived. The climax of this activity was the performance of Verdi’s Requiem, under the direction of Rafael Schächter, who used one piano and one copy of the score to train 150 Jewish singers to interpret this Catholic Mass for the Dead. Its hymns of “Libera me” and “Dies irae” expressed respectively a passionate desire for freedom and the idea that a Day of Judgment would bring the wrath of God upon the Nazis.
The second story of Defiant Requiem is a more recent one. Conductor Murry Sidlin came upon the story of Schächter, his chorus, and the Verdi performances when he was read- ing a book on music of the Holocaust in the 1990s. Deeply moved, he began research that eventually led him to Edgar Krasa, a survivor of Terezín, member of Schächter’s chorale, and Schächter’s roommate; Krasa led him to other survivors. In 2006, Maestro Sidlin brought a full orchestra and the Catholic University of America’s chorale to the Czech Republic, performing the Requiem in the same locale that Schächter had used. The concert was recorded, and in 2012 director Doug Shultz’s film Defiant Requiem was released. The film combines original photographs from the time, interviews with survivors, re-enactments, animations from artwork created in Terezín, and segments of the 2006 performance.
Many movies about the Holocaust fill the viewer with despair over man’s inhumanity to man. Defiant Requiem captures the horrors of the Third Reich, but also shows the power of the human spirit to create art and beauty under the most egregious circumstances. It is also a testament to the importance of preserving history. As such, it will be a memorable experience for students. This curriculum guide is intended to deepen and intensify that experience, while still meeting your required classroom goals.
Defiant Requiem Curriculum Guide
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