Monday, 11 April 2016


US Soldiers escort thousands of former prisoners at Buchenwald to liberation &
to safety on 11th of April 1945. The clock situated above the gate' from which
the soldiers and free men and children exit has been permanently set to the very
hour and minute the camp was liberated on the 11th of April: it proudly displays
to this very day the time stamp of 3:15, the exact moment in the late
afternoon during which the camp was freed.
Today is a day of remembrance and reflection.

It was on this 11th day of April in 1945 that US Forces from the 6th Armored Division of US Third Army stormed their way through Germany, liberating some 21,000 emaciated and dying Jewish prisoners who had remained captive in a chamber of horrors following the recently failed forced evacuation by the SS at Buchenwald – one of the premier and largest concentration camps mounted on German soil.

In the world of art, much has been made in honor of those victims who survived (and those who unfortunately had perished) during the Holocaust. Many in the artistic realms have drawn their inspiration by the horrific - yet also courageous -  first and second hand accounts of the horrors of the second world war, opting to highlight the devastating impact of the trials and tribulations, the breaking of spirit and the indomitable force of perseverance and sacrifice the victims of Hitler's 'final solution' must have experienced. 
 From film to literature, to stage plays and musicals, classical music and opera, inquiring minds representing all forms of media have made the bounty of WWII-related documents currently in existence and stories of first hand accounts find their own immortality in artistic form: making it's collective legacy that of a reminder of the end result of unchecked power and uncontrolled hatred. Such forms of art remind us not only of mankind's past, but also helps remind us today of the infinite powers we each instinctively hold within ourselves to express love or hate, and it looks to mankind's future, to "never forget" the mistakes of our ancestors, to never repeat them, but instead learn from them.

The events of WWII as relegated to art is truly one cup that overfloweth: among the many pieces of literature and articles in media on the subject, the reader/audience is inundated with stories of survivors who sacrificed faith to preserve life (such as in the excellent film Europa Europa), to the criminal subset of the camp prisoners, who, in order to survive - and in total breakdown of spirit - aid the enemy (in the fascinating film Die Fälscher), even to the so-called "Neo-Nazi" movement as reflected in the very powerful independent film The Believer, which was based on the true account of a young Jewish man, who, ashamed of the history of his peoples, seeks to join the order, so conflicted is he by his own "Jewishness" that he attempts to blow up a Temple and execute Jewish leaders).

Such films are all deeply effecting on ones ‘soul’ - whether the audience is Jewish or ‘gentile’. Much like further films based on the holocaust, the realm of music has more than it's fair share of tributes.

In a nod to my Jewish readers from around of the world, and in tribute to your fallen ancestors, I am including below my favorite of the bounty with the second movement from composer Henryk Górecki’s exquisite (yet at times soul crushing) 3rd Symphony.

Polish Composer Henryk Górecki
Górecki was himself a Jewish man of Polish descent. In the late 20th century the composer became inspired to choose for the second movement to his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs[1] an exceptionally emotive plea from daughter to mother upon learning of the fate of young 18 year old Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna who, after being separated of her mother by the Nazis, expressed not personal sorrow nor an inner digest of self, but rather befell so overcome by passion and tenderness for her mother  – whom young Helena didn’t even know had remained alive - begging her “not to cry” as she sat to make an etching on the prison walls, which had already been covered by prisoners who came before Helena - all of whom, had undoubtedly been worked and starved to death and/or executed by the Nazis.

For Górecki, upon learning of innocent young Helena's scrawling on the wall of her prison cell,  decided the text for the second movement of the symphony would be a no-brainer: luckily for him, and especially lucky for us, Górecki had correctly surmised that there could be no more moving a text, nor as meaningfully piquant to capture the raw spirit of the original etching as 'sketched' by young Helena. As such, the words of Helena to her elusive mother, as sketched (likely by her own fingernails) were lifted from that sorrowful scrawling on the walls, scratched into history a little more than 30 years earlier by the young girl-prisoner - worried sick over her mother’s mental heath - from within her tiny cell in a Gestapo prison in the town of Zakopane in Poland.

The Etching/Polish text:
"Mamo, nie płacz, nie.
Niebios Przeczysta Królowo,
Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.
Zdrować Mario"
English translation:
"No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Support me always.
Hail Mary, full of grace..."
Górecki, much like his listeners were deeply moved and astonished at the display of instinctive love and protection in the midst of the ultimate test of fight or flight known to man - being an unwitting prisoner of war – finding only concern for others and compassion whilst effectively sitting on death row.  The composer expressed the stories effect on his person thusly:
 "I have to admit that I have always been irritated by grand words, by calls for revenge. Perhaps in the face of death I would shout out in this way. But the sentence I found is different, almost an apology or explanation for having got herself into such trouble; she is seeking comfort and support in simple, short but meaningful words…In prison, the whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: 'I'm innocent', 'Murderers', 'Executioners', 'Free me', 'You have to save me'—it was all so loud, so banal. Adults were writing this, while here it is an eighteen-year-old girl, almost a child. And she is so different. She does not despair, does not cry, does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary. And it really fascinated me."
Below you will find two versions of this beautiful movement, the first being my personal favorite version and holding much significance for me in terms of my early ‘introduction’ into the world of classical music.

The latter video is for contemplative effect: Sung by Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, the highly emotionally charged video takes the viewer inside a different camp, as the Danish Symphony Orchestra performs in it's abandoned halls whilst Bayrakdarian sings from both inside and at the gate of the abandoned camp at Auschwitz back in 2005 during the commemoration of the camps liberation 60 years prior in 1945.

For my personal favorite rendition, I chose Polish soprano Zofia Kilanowitz under the baton of Antoni Wit. In the West, it would be the American soprano Dawn Upshaw who would help make Górecki's 3rd (in particular it’s ii lento e largo movement) famous, but to my taste, I far prefer the richer coloring of voice in Kilanowitz . The Lento e Largo from Górecki’s 3rd Symphony was one of my very first introductions into the realm of classical music as a young girl. The effect it had on my mental and physiological being was as all encompassing then as it remains now: I can distinctly remember being hit by a very deep mixture of melancholy, [aptly titled] sorrow, mixed in with a wave of heat and chills that would flush my skin and my very insides from head to toe. In one word: gooseflesh.

 As I revisited this piece (which I did - and do - often: almost always Zofia’s Lento) as a very young lady and then now into a woman, that all encompassing physical transcendence that I had first experienced as a youth whilst listening to the Lento e largo remained unhindered save for the perspective one learns throughout acquiring wisdom alongside age (in this instance, regarding world history and politics - and a boatload of empathetic tears upon revisiting the piece armed with this 'newfound' knowledge). At this 'stage', that all too familiar feeling of transcendence would emerge from it's cocoon in the form of an ethereal bliss once I could reflect upon the plight of young Helena, and compare her to the still riotous time man currently resides in, and wonder how many more exist like her across the war torn, charred earth - those brave souls discovering around them mankind's astonishing ability to destroy everything and everyone around him as his inane hatred is made allowed to 'flourish unchecked' - yet still being able to discover within his or herself an even stronger instinct - one that is also very primitive: that very innate, ever present all conquering love, that much unlike any physical spoils of war, it is love, when 'remained unchecked' that permeates all emotions. It is love that proves itself infinite amounts more fruitful than any other - and accomplishes a far more legendary and lasting status as the most powerful defense of all.

Reflect on my favorite rendition of this deeply impacting movement by Polish Soprano Zofia Kilanowicz:

This version of Lento e Largo was filmed within the abandoned carcass of Auschwitz, and was a historical
event in and of itself: Bayrakdarian was just one of a crew of individually selected musicians (including the
orchestra backing her vocals) to have been made allowed to perform music in the now protected site.
Prior to the shooting of this performance for an independent documentary, there had been no form of music
played or heard in the camp since it's liberation in 1945.

[1] a three movement symphony, each movement representing a different aspect of Mother and Child: The first, depicting the loss of a Mothers Son: In this instance, lament of the Holy Mother Mary of the Christian Faith, in which She begs to share with Her dying Son Jesus the pain of His wounds whilst bearing witness to His execution on at the Cross. The second, and perhaps the most moving of the three is sung from the perspective of a daughter to her mother: this time from inside the locked cell of a Gestapo Prison during the Second World War and finally, in the Symphony’s third movement: Gorecki presents to the listener a Silesian folksong in which a distraught mother searches for her son who had been executed by the Germans during the Silesian uprings, and whose body has become lost in the rubble.


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