Sunday, February 17, 2013

BIFF REPORT: Singing to God: A look at 'Defiant Requiem'

(From left) 'Defiant Requiem' director Doug Shultz, Holocaust survivors Edgar and Hana Krasna. [Photo by Leah Mayotte]

BIFF DigiComm Commando

By the end of this remarkable film, you knew that the thick walls of Terezin, the ancient
walled fortress outside of Prague, heard the voices again. Voices that last sang seven
decades ago, voices that sang to honor the unmarked graves, voices that sang knowing
that God could not help but hear them. The voices of Jewish people imprisoned by the
Nazis, simply because they were Jewish. Terrorized, starved, murdered, simply because
they were Jewish. But they sang. Starving, cold, exhausted, they sang, every night in a
freezing cellar, led by a dedicated brilliant Jewish pianist, Raphael Schachter. Not only
did Schachter teach a group of 150 Jewish prisoners Verdi’s Requiem, one of the most
difficult pieces of music every written, he taught them in Latin and without a single
written note. Schachter, however, changed Verdi’s work from a Catholic mass for the
dead to a mass for dead Nazis, adding words of revenge, judgment and revelation. And
he translated the work to Czech, so that every singer could sing out that this was their
world, not the horrific world of Nazis. “We became different people in that cellar,”
said one of the survivors. And every viewer became a different person after viewing this
moving film.

Filmmakers Doug Shultz and Whitney Johnson brought two of the Terezin survivors,
Edgar and Hana Krasa, to Boulder. Speaking with heavy accents, they answered each
question in detail. As I listened, I remembered my parents’ heavy Czech accents. I
approached Edgar after the show, reaching for his hand. “Do you speak Czech?” I asked
in his native tongue. “I haven’t forgotten it yet,” Edgar answered, squeezing my hand.
And Boulder will not forget you, Edgar. Thanks for helping us what it means to sing to

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