Call it serendipity or an Act of God, but Murry Sidlin had no idea that the random choosing of a book in a sale bin at a store on Hennepin Avenue in the Twin Cities on a sunny April day would cause a left turn in his life as a composer and conductor.
Sidlin began his talk yesterday at the Bemidji Public Library to an overflow crowd with a little story. After thanking Beverly Everett and the Bemidji Symphony for their invitation to perform his composition: "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin," Sidlin went on with his narrative.
"Believe it or not, I put my hand into the middle of the pile of books and pulled out one and it was called 'Music at Terezin,'" he said. "I looked at the cover, and it was a bunch of children at a play or an opera or whatever and I stopped for a second.
"What did I know about Terezin in what we now call the Czech Republic? I knew that there happened to be in that particular concentration camp a large number of musicians and scholars. It was just the luck of the draw that in the round-up of Jews in Czechoslovakia, that there were a lot of musicians and scholars."
The rest of the story will be told at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 1, at the Bemidji High School auditorium, 2900 Division St. W., when the "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin" will be performed. The concert is a collaborative effort of the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra, Bemidji Chorale and the Bemidji State University Chorus with vocal soloists Carrie Mineck, Janet Hopkins, Nathan Carlisle and Michael Mayes.
Guest Conductor Murry Sidlin created this multi-media presentation from the story of Rafael Schaechter, a prisoner at Terezin (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp where the majority of Czech Jews perished. Using a smuggled copy of Verdi's "Requiem," Conductor Schaechter led his choir, comprised of fellow inmates. His leadership and concerts have come to symbolize resistance and defiance for it answered the worst of mankind with the best of mankind. This powerful musical presentation will also show footage from the original Nazi propaganda film on Theresienstadt and actors from Theater B of Fargo, N.D., will speak the words of Schaechter and other prisoners.
Tickets are on sale now at Leuken's Village Foods North and Brigid's Cross Irish Pub at $20 for adults and $15 for seniors. Children 18 years and younger are admitted free and Minnesota Public Radio Members receive a $2 discount. If available, tickets will also be sold at the door.
This performance is made possible by a gift from the Nielson Foundation, the Region 2 Arts Council and in partnership with Minnesota Public Radio.
Robert Treuer, a holocaust
survivor said this concert will be a very special occasion for his family for there are very few of them who survived.
"My cousin, Erika Rybeck, will be coming to the performance on Sunday with her family," said Treuer. "It will be the first time that she'll have closure on having lost her parents, Gertrud and Fredrich Schulhol. Erika survived the holocaust because her parents put her on a Kinder Train. She, along with other children, was able to escape, but her parents had to remain behind. Erika was taken in at the convent in Scotland and, after the war, my parents were able to bring her over here. It was many years before we had the answer as to what happened to her parents. This Sunday will be a memorial service for them."
Terezin was not formally a death camp, but people died there naturally from starvation, sickness, exposure to the elements and mistreatment. About 160,000 prisoners went through Terezin; 38,000 died at Terezin and many at the death camps. It was a way-station to the other camps. There were thousands who went through Terezin and perished. The most staggering heartbreaking statistics are of the children. There were 15,000 children, and fewer than 300 survived the war.
After much searching, Sidlin was able to locate and spend time with Edgar Krasa and his wife Hana, both survivors of Terezin. Edgar was a room-mate of Rafael Schaechter, at Terezin. The Krasas now live in Newton, Mass., and they have been very helpful in Sidlin's pursuit of the truth of what happened during those fateful few years in Terezin.
Edgar Krasa's famous quote - "We gave the Nazis what we couldn't say" - appears in almost all that is written about Sidlin's multi-media composition.
Having the piece heard here in Bemidji on World Holocaust Day is special, said Sidlin.
'It dramatizes and magnifies the moment, but this story should be known the other 364 days a year for it is an illumination," he said. "It is not just history, but it says something important about the human spirit, human frailties and mistakes and human bravery and courage to rise above. Those are universal, everyday stories but they are particularly poignant on Holocaust Day."
One of the listeners to Sidlin's talk on Thursday at the Bemidji Public Library was Pat Grimes, who said, "I think it was a particularly sad time in history, and I am glad that people are still doing remembrance for the people who perished in the concentration camps."
After the conclusion of Sunday's concert, Clay Jenkinson will moderate a panel with Sidlin, BSO Music Director Beverly Everett and selected members of the production for those who wish to hear more about this project.