Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Writers in a Terrible Place

“The Day of the Imprisoned Writer” (November 15) was established by PEN International to recognize and provide support for writers who use their skills to fight political repression. Today’s Jewish Treat honors a different sort of writer in a different sort of imprisonment, the prisoners of the Nazis whose artistic lives were shaped, and most often, ended by the Holocaust.

In November 1941, the Nazis began operation at Theresienstadt (also called Terezin), a former fortress that was transformed into a “model” concentration camp.* Theresienstadt was the “show” camp to which the Nazis brought the Red Cross and foreign diplomats to demonstrate how well Jews and other prisoners were being treated. As “prettified” as the camp could be, it was still a concentration camp with torture and murder at its core.

Theresienstadt was marked as the destination to which many notable personalities were sent. Among these were a host of writers who continued to write even in their dire circumstances, such as: Norbert Fryd (1913-1976), who wrote a collection of nursery rhymes that were then set to music and performed in the camp ghetto and Peter Kien (1919 - 1944), who wrote numerous plays as well as the libretto to a one-act opera, The Emperor of Atlantis created in the camp.

Because of the combination of talented prisoners and Thereienstadt’s alternative purpose, there were times of actual artistic creativity at the camp. Musical and theatrical performances were arranged, and children were schooled in numerous artistic pursuits. In 1994, a collection of the poems and pictures created by the children of Theresenstadt was published under the title I Never Saw Another Butterfly, which is also the name of a haunting poem composed by 21 year old Pavel Friedmann (who perished in Auschwitz in September 1944).

*Theresienstadt is referred to as both a camp and a ghetto.


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