Page 15 - Church Review JUNE 2020 [IM)
P. 15

Ephraim and Lena Sacks were born in Dublin on 19 April 1915 and 2 February 1918. Ephraim was 27 when he was murdered in Auschwitz on 24 August 1942; Lena was about 24 when she was murdered there in 1942 or 1943.
Recalling Ravensbrück
The Holocaust touched every family in Europe. We should not think that there was a family that did not lose cousins, neighbours, friends, work colleagues or school friends.
In my own family, a very, very distant family member, Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944), was born in Paris but was a descendant of the Comerford family of Wexford.
She was involved in the French resistance and was captured, and on 7 April 1944. She was sent to the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where her unique number was 47135. She died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944.
Her husband, Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945), died in the concentration camp in Dachau two months later in January 1945.
The children of Terezín
Theresienstadt or Terezín was both a concentration camp and a ghetto established by the SS in World War II in the fortress town of Terezín, 70 km north of Prague. It was both a waystation to the extermination camps, and a ‘retirement settlement’ for elderly and prominent Jews to mislead their communities about the Nazi plan for genocide. The conditions were created deliberately to hasten the death of the prisoners, but the ghetto also served a propaganda role, most notably during Red Cross visits and in making propaganda films.
The children’s opera Brundibár was composed in 1938 by the composers Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister for the Children’s Orphanage of Prague. It was first performed at Theresienstadt on 23 September 1943, and was performed 55 times, or about once a week, until the transports of autumn 1944.
The opera tells the story of a brother and sister who stand up to a bully in order to afford milk to save their sick mother. It was meant to teach the children how to deal with a bully and how to remain positive in difficult situations.
Brundibár was performed 55 times in the camp for inspectors from organisations including the Red Cross. Many of the performers were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them died.
Hoffmeister’s final verse was: ‘Who likes mummy and daddy and our native home is our friend and can play with us.’ Erik Saudek changed this to: ‘Who likes the law, stands by it and is not afraid of anything ...’ This final verse became something of an anthem in Terezín. Actors and viewers alike knew very well the meaning of these words in combination with the innocent children’s fight with the evil Brundibár.
At the end of Brundibár, the chorus sings:
We’ve won a victory over the tyrant mean. Sound trumpets, beat your drum,
and show us your esteem.
We’ve won a victory because we were not fearful, because we were not tearful.
Because we marched along singing our happy song, bright joyful and cheerful.
The Red Cross took over the administration of Terezín and removed the SS flag on 2 May 1945. The SS fled on 5-6 May. On 8 May 1945, V-E Day, Red Army troops skirmished with German forces outside the ghetto and liberated it at 9 pm.
‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ ... the gates of Auschwitz
The names of the concentration camps surround the Aron haKodesh or
Holy Ark in the Pinkas Synagogue, Prague
 Only 20 of the 400
of Brundibár survived until their liberation. Brundibár was not performed outside Terezín until 1986, when Radio Prague recorded its international debut.
Why we must remember
Rebecca Comerford, a professional singer and actor, is now bringing Brundibár and the story of Terezín to American audiences, including synagogues, in a deliberate decision taken in the light of the present political climate.
Speaking in Etz Chaim Synagogue in Biddeford, Maine, she recalled how her company chose Brundibár as part of their programme because of ‘the current political climate, and the rise of fascism across the globe, and the pervasive rise of intolerance, not just nationally, but on a macro level, too.’
‘We decided that this would be really timely and relevant in terms of our mission, and said let’s do this outreach component, too. We’ll really discuss the messages. How do we deal with a bully? What does that mean to our children? And why do they need to know this story, so history doesn’t repeat itself again?’ Rebecca Comerford said.
‘It’s our obligation as a human family to share the story,’ Rebecca told her audience in Etz Chaim.
A recent visit to Sachsenhausen reminded me that as well 6 million Jews, the victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust included Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors, people with disabilities, and people who joined the Resistance throughout Europe.
Some of the people I mention are distant – very distant – branches on a very extended family tree. But we have to cherish the memory of everyone who died in the Holocaust. We must refuse to distance ourselves from them, to classify these victims as ‘them.’
Contrary to the thinking in the Daily Mail, however briefly, VE Day was not ‘Britain’s victory over Europe.’ It was the victory of the Allies in Europe, the end of the Holocaust, and the end of a conflict that finally united most of the world in the struggle against fascism, and the beginning of the European project. ‘It’s our obligation as a human family to share the story.’
(Canon) Patrick Comerford blogs at
Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2020
   Multilingual memorials in Birkenau ...
a reminder of the many nationalities of the victims of the Holocaust
 The Nazis planned to exterminate 11 million Jews in Europe, including 4,000 Jews in Ireland ... a list on display in Auschwitz
 Starvation, a sculpture in Auchwitz by
Meiczyslaw Stobierski ... Ephraim and
 CHURCH REVIEW 15 Lena Sacks were born in Dublin and were
murdered in Auschwitz

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