Creation amid death

31st March 1995 at 01:00
TES reviewers discuss artistic responses to the Holocaust. Often, people coming into school to talk to you treat you like babies," said Emma Peplow. "But Mark made us feel like adults."

Emma was responding to a workshop on the Holocaust mounted at Turves Green Girls' School, Birmingham, by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Education Department. The workshop, for Year 9 pupils, was led by Mark Ludwig, director of the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation. It focused on the music of Viktor Ullmann and Gideon Klein, two gifted composers who perished after incarceration at the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Excerpts from works by Ullmann and Klein were played by members of the CBSO string section. And the dramatic live performances, in conjunction with Ludwig's unpatronising presentation of the facts about Theresienstadt, clearly impressed members of the audience.

"I liked the exaggerated dynamics in the music by Klein," said Claire Hoffman. This quartet was completed a mere six days before the composer was sent to his death at Auschwitz. "It was really touching hearing it," said Jenny Bishton. "I felt something of what Klein felt. It was his last piece. The resignation of it. It made you want to cry."

Between 1941 and 1945 the Nazis transported 15,000 children to Theresienstadt. Of these, a mere 93 ultimately survived. "Which means that, statistically, one of you might have lived if this group had been taken," said Ludwig. "Just imagine you've been singled out to be transported," he continued. "Because of the colour of your skin. Or, maybe, because you go to this school. What would you take with you?" Valuables, things to wash with, scraps of food, some entertainment. Individuals in Ludwig's audience responded thoughtfully to his question, confronting, for a moment, one aspect of the Holocaust.

Ludwig showed slides of artwork by children from the camp. "I took in what he was saying," said another pupil, Vanessa Woolley. "When things like this are on TV they don't interest me at all. But he made the information about the children really moving".

Afterwards, I asked Mark Ludwig about the Terezin Foundation. "Our school programme focuses on the importance of creativity to those who perished in the Holocaust. There were millions of victims and, in these workshops, we're putting faces on the victims, be they adults or children."

Ludwig's work relates directly to the national curriculum history requirements at key stage 3. But did he see his workshops as having more than historical significance? "We're not just living in the past," he said. "When people are singled out for persecution, we all become victims. This applies to the UK as much as anywhere, because there are neo-Nazis all over the world."

The workshop was praised by Turves Green School's head of music Helen Moulton, as well as by her pupils. "We've had a number of previous workshops from the CBSO," she said. "And, like today's, they've all been of high quality." But let Vanessa Woolley have the last word: "Most of us enjoyed the workshop. And we took it really seriously."

Terezin Chamber Music Foundation, Astor Station, PO Box 2O6, Boston MA O2123 02O6, USA. CBSO Education 0121 236 1555.

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