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First Performance in Israel of Play by Concentration Camp Inmates

An opera written by two inmates of the Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II, which cost the authors their lives, had its first Israeli performance at the Jerusalem Theater this week by the National Opera of Holland. It was the main event of this year’s spring festival in Jerusalem.

The history of the opera, titled “The Emperor of Atlantis,” goes back to the Holocaust years when the Nazis maintained Theresienstadt as a “show case” where the inmates lived under more or less humane conditions. This was primarily to impress representatives of the International Red Cross who visited the place. The prisoners were allowed cultural activities and two of them, Victor Ulmann, a musician and Peter Caine, a painter, wrote and scored the opera. Its setting was the mythical kingdom of Atlantis ruled by a cruel tyrant.

Initially, the Germans approved of the production. When they realized that it was an allegorical depiction of the horrors of the Nazi regime, they banned the work and deported the authors to Auschwitz from where they never returned. Ulmann managed to hide the script with another prisoner.

It was discovered by accident in a London attic three years ago. Kerry Woodward, a BBC conductor, reconstructed the opera and Roda Levin, a television director from the U.S., prepared it for production. The premier performance, by the National Opera of Holland, took place in London in December, 1975.

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