Posted by Elyse Rast
I’ve worked with Holocaust survivors for many years and the majority of our interactions revolve around sadness. Whether we are getting together to allocate funds, commemorate and bear witness, or remember during a speaking engagement, our exchanges are rarely light-hearted or joyful. That is until a few weeks ago on a Wedesday night.
I had the pleasure of meeting 13 survivors and their loved ones at a Terezin Music Foundation event honoring Yo-Yo Ma at Symphony Hall. Yo-Yo Ma, an award-winning cellist and human rights activist, performed three pieces of rescued Holocaust music with 92-year old Holocaust survivor, Dr. George Horner. The surprisingly light-hearted pieces were written in Terezinstadt, a concentration camp, between 1942 and 1943 by composer Karel Svenk. Mr. Svenk did not survive the Holocaust but Dr. Horner, who played piano and accordion in Nazi-mandated cabaret performances with Mr. Svenk, survived and lived a life full of music, medicine, and family. Seeing Dr. Horner play together with Yo-Yo Ma, both seemingly filled with happiness, was both heart-breaking and life-affirming. It is tragic thinking about the lost music we will never hear, but to witness one of the few people who did survive play along with one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century was a sight to behold.
"Joining the standing ovation in Symphony Hall after Dr. Horner finished playing the piano accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma was the highlight of a truly wonderful evening," commented David Schechter, long-time JF&CS supporter whose generous gift to JF&CS Holocaust Services led to renaming the program for the Schechter family.
Every survivor who attended showered me with hugs, kisses, and kind wishes, making me feel as if I were surrounded by 20 grandparents! Many were crying with tears of joy instead of heartbreak, and it felt fantastic to bring a couple hours of happiness to people who deserved it.
Fred Manasse, Holocaust survivor and member of the Hakalah Advisory Board, told me how much he and his wife liked the concert. “Annette and I both enjoyed the concert very much. It was a great experience seeing an actual survivor still playing from memory the cabaret music of the period in combination with Yo-Yo Ma (playing his cello standing up like a double bass accompaniment).The newly commissioned piece, which reminded me of riding in a cattle car from Brussels to safety in Vichy, France in 1940, was eerie and profoundly moving. We both appreciated the opportunity to attend the concert.”
Elyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.
Image from the Terezin Music Foundation Event © Michael J. Lutch of lutchphotos.com