The state opera that sur­vived Auschwitz

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY TOBY AX­EL­ROD MU­NICH

A JEWISH orches­tra has joined forces with the Bavar­ian State Opera to per­form a work writ­ten by a doomed com­poser at Mu­nich’s an­nual Jewish Fes­ti­val.

Czech com­poser Vic­tor Ull­mann wrote The Em­peror of At­lantis while im­pris­oned at the There­sien­stadt camp. He was sub­se­quently de­ported to Auschwitz and mur­dered in 1944.

His dark opera, a thinly veiled al­le­gory of Hitler’s lust for power over life and death, was never per­formed in the con­cen­tra­tion camp.

There­sien­stadt was pa­raded by the Nazis as proof that Jews were be­ing han­dled fairly. In fact, more than 30,000 died there and an­other 88,000 were de­ported to other camps.

In the opera, sub­ti­tled Death’s Re­fusal, a myth­i­cal em­peror wages a mas­sive war and tries to ban both death and art. In the end, the char­ac­ter rep­re­sent­ing Death of­fers to re­turn, if the Em­peror agrees to be the first to die. The Em­peror ac­qui­esces, but re­minds Death that war will go on.

The per­for­mances were held in Mu­nich’s new Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre.

“You can­not sep­a­rate the opera from its his­tor­i­cal con­text,” said Markus Koch, di­rec­tor of the Bavar­ian State Opera. “But on the other hand, it has such an im­me­di­acy and per­ti­nence and rel­e­vance to­day.

Mr Koch, 38, who is not Jewish, con­tin­ued: “As a Ger­man you do have a spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. I in­her­ited that ter­ri­ble his­tory. The only thing I can do is work ac­tively against for­get­ting and for re­mem­ber­ing.”

Daniel Gross­mann, 29-year-old con­duc­tor and co-founder of the twoyear-old Jakob­splatz Orches­tra, said Ull­mann’s fate was al­ways in the back of his mind.

But the orches­tra, whose mu­si­cians come from all over the world, is ded­i­cated to play­ing works by Jewish com­posers. And so he ap­proached the task with joy, rather than mourn­ing, said Mr Gross­mann.

He also hopes the orches­tra will be­come an at­trac­tion, bring­ing Jews and non-Jews to­gether in Mu­nich’s new Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre on Jakob­splatz. They need other points of com­mu­ni­ca­tion aside from the Holo­caust, he said. “It is very im­por­tant, es­pe­cially for young peo­ple.”

Daniel Gross­mann: the young con­duc­tor ap­proached the project “with joy”

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