Christopher Latham, artist-in-residence at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra was commissioned to create The Holocaust Memorial and the Music of Memory Series, which will premiere late in October 2024.
As a precursor to what will be a series of musical commemorative works next year, he is presenting on October 18, an intimate lecture-concert at the Lamm Library. “We are just starting with the first one because it roughly marks the date 80 years ago when the Jewish artists and composers from Terezin were murdered in Auschwitz,” Latham said.
“It is an appalling blow to Jewish culture. It is notable how poor Czech music was after the war as they had lost their greatest talents.”
Latham said, “[History shows] the Nazis brought artistic talent to Terezin to create a showcase Jewish city, so as to fool the Red Cross and international observers.” In that imprisoned artistic community were the highly talented Czech composers Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Hans Krasa and Viktor Ullmann.
“Following the Red Cross inspection and the filming of a propaganda film, they were transferred to Auschwitz in October 1944. Haas, Krasa and Ullman were killed upon arrival, with Klein dying in the Furstengrube sub-camp in January 1945,” he added.
The musicians were not the only creative prisoners in the camp. Artists Otto Ungar, Bedrich Fritta and Felix Bloch were arrested and interrogated by Terezin Commandant Karl Rahm, SS officers Captain Moes, Captain Hans Gunther and Colonel Adolf Eichmann.
“They wanted to know why the artists were painting the ghetto, accusing them of being part of a communist propaganda plot.” In truth they were documenting their existence, creating evidence, later to be used in the Nuremberg trials. Only Leo Haas survived to recover their hidden art. Latham’s address will focus on works by Bedřich Fritta, Leo (Lev) Haas, Felix (Ferdinand, Friedrich) Bloch, Otto Ungar, Malva Shalek, Peter Kien, Karel Fleischmann, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the children of Terezin.
“It’s basically 45 minutes of music and art with some interesting stories,” Latham said. “I’ll talk mainly about the prominent artists there, but there’ll be a little bit about general life at the time.” One of the things he is very interested in is telling women’s stories.
Czech composer Ilse Weber wrote songs, such as lullabies in the camp for the orphans and children in the infirmary she cared for. She was separated from her family and ended up at Auschwitz with just the children from the camp. Waiting outside the gas chambers, recognising one of the guards from Terezin she said, “This isn’t a shower is it?” And he replied, “No.
“I’ve heard you sing many times in Terezin so take the children into the far corner and sit on the floor and sing.”
Lost Treasures of Terezin: a talk with music and images by Christopher Latham is on October 18 from 6.30pm at Lamm Jewish Library of Australia. Tickets: trybooking.com/CIRFT