PRAGUE, May 9 (JTA) Hundreds of people packed into the cultural center at Terezin in the Czech Republic on Monday for a concert that brought to life the work of musicians killed there by the Nazis.
Japanese pianist Izumi Shimura thrilled her audience with compositions by Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas and Hans Krasa all of whom perished after spending time in the former fortress during World War II.
But the performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact that the $25,000 piano she was using had been donated to the town of Terezin by nearly 900 Japanese citizens, 40 of whom traveled specially for its inaugural concert.
“It was a very moving occasion,” said Gaby Flatow of the Hans Krasa Foundation Fund, which has promoted and published the music of Terezin prisoners since 1995. “We have never had such a packed concert at the cultural center. Many people had to stand for the performance.”
In contrast to the tribute at Terezin, a concert at another concentration camp site was not universally praised. The Vienna Philharmonic performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the quarry of the Mauthausen concentration camp, near Vienna. Critics said Sunday’s concert demeaned the memory of those who perished there.
In Terezin, the performance of work written by composers who died in the Holocaust was better received.
It was Shimura herself who raised Japanese interest in a brand-new piano for Terezin.
In a previous performance at the center last year, she had used a small upright piano on which a young Gideon Klein had written a sonata before being sent to his death in Auschwitz. It lacked the quality of a concert instrument so she formed a Japanese association called Grand Piano for Terezin, which raised the money for a new piano.
“I apologized to the artist [Shimura] last year for the quality of the piano and thanked her for her performance in the names of the composers who died,” said Flatow. “I think this struck her heart so much because she felt close to them by playing at Terezin.”
A plaque was unveiled at the concert dedicating the piano to all the musicians imprisoned in the ghetto established by the Nazis at Terezin, which is also known by its German name of Theresienstadt.
It read, “It is the sincere wish of the Japanese association Grand Piano for Terezin that the immortal works of these composers be preserved for the whole world.”
The event included performances by Czech and German artists and featured works by Scarlatti, Beethoven and the Japanese contemporary composer Hikaru Hayashi.
“The idea is not to create another music ghetto here in Terezin but to perform a range of works by different international artists,” Flatow explained.
Terezin, which lies nearly 40 miles from Prague, was a ghetto that served as a transit point to the Nazi death camps.
By May 1945, the Nazis had transported 140,000 people to Terezin, including some of Europe’s most gifted artists, musicians and composers.
Those imprisoned maintained an active cultural community, despite terrible living conditions.