Shoah-inspired requiem to be performed in S.F.

Nothing came easy in the Terezin ghetto. When Rafael Schachter organized a troupe of musicians to perform Verdi’s Requiem, the Nazis sent his 150-voice chorus to the death camps. He reassembled it, and they sent it again.

Sixteen times between 1943 and ’44 the Jewish chorus sang in the defiant requiem what it could not say to its captors.

The chorus’ act of resistance inspired Czech composer Sylvie Bodorova to pen her own requiem in memorial of the victims of the Holocaust, the “Terezin Ghetto Requiem,” a brooding, mournful piece for a string quartet and a baritone.

The Czech Republic’s Skampa Quartet and local baritone Christopheren Nomura will perform “Terezin Ghetto Requiem” and three other pieces 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16 at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre.

“I wanted to honor those who, under the most extreme conditions and in the face of death, found the courage to protest against their torture by means of something as ultimately human as Verdi’s Requiem,” wrote Bodorova in 1998, a year after composing her requiem.

“In September 1997, when my composition was almost finished, I too, like the prisoners in 1943 to ’44, heard Verdi’s Requiem at Terezin. I was dwarfed by the walls surrounding the ghetto, how much humiliation is soaked into them. But when the music started I looked up and felt an extraordinary sense of liberation. And as the music came to an end, the small group of survivors gathered in front of the stage were suddenly and magically illuminated by the setting sun.”

A high number of Jewish artists, musicians and intellectuals were confined in Terezin, and, as a result, Verdi’s Requiem was not the ghetto’s only artistic endeavor.

The Verdi Requiem, however, was the most controversial show. Many Jews objected to the overt Catholic liturgy in the verses, and others thought the show’s defiant message — including lines such as “Grant them eternal rest, Lord” and “Hear my prayer”— would anger the Nazis.

Survivors report that Schachter hoped Bodorova’s requiem would allow the Jews to “sing to them what we cannot say to them.”

He was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he died.

San Francisco Performances presents Skampa Quartet with Christopheren Nomura performing “Terezin Ghetto Requiem” and three other pieces 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16, at Herbst Theatre, 410 Van Ness Ave., S.F. Tickets: $26-$44. Information: (415) 398-6449.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.