Terezin camp spirit to live on in Leeds music project

Leeds project will extend beyond the Holocaust, says music principal

By Jonathan Kalmus, February 23, 2012
Survivor Zdenka Fantlova  in Tyneside for Holocaust Memorial Day in 2010

Survivor Zdenka Fantlova in Tyneside for Holocaust Memorial Day in 2010

A Holocaust actress who performed eight plays inside a Nazi concentration camp will launch an international Holocaust music research hub by telling how the power of creative arts gave freedom amid hell.

Terezin camp survivor Zdenka Fantlová, 89, was friends with the Jewish elite of Czech musicians, actors and writers interned at the Terezin concentration camp near Prague. The Nazis, notoriously, allowed Jewish artists to perform there, partially as a propaganda stunt to deceive the world about its war crimes.

Ms Fantlova, who acted in the camp's Jewish theatre, was once serenaded in a barracks by pianist Gideon Klein. The composer wrote major classical works to bring hope to camp inmates amid appalling conditions where 150,000 Jews were interned. He was later murdered, aged 26, never to take up his scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

"I sat in the darkness while he played Chopin. I was thinking this is almost surreal, this brilliant pianist, a genius, playing in the night only for me. He should be in the Carnegie Hall playing for large audiences," Ms Fantlová recounted.

"Within Terezin we were free, to meet, to discuss and create things. It was a paradise compared to what came afterwards, which was real hell".

She added: "When people are deprived of freedom they want to create. If they have the talent they can, and luckily some of those creations were preserved. Most were not and the people themselves vanished. The world is poorer because these people have gone."

Gideon Klein's work will survive through the launch of the Terezin Music Hub at the Leeds College of Music on Sunday, designed to collaborate with music colleges worldwide to teach and perform the work of Jewish musicians who composed under the gaze of Nazi tyranny. The launch will also feature Klein expert Michael Beckerman of New York University and renowned US conductor Murry Sidlin as distinguished keynote speakers.

Dr  David Fligg

Dr David Fligg

Dr David Fligg, principal classical music lecturer at the Leeds college, who is behind the project, said ensuring the music was performed would keep it alive. He said: "The hub hopes to raise awareness of musicians who have produced music and performed in adversity. Our work will go even beyond the Holocaust, to musicians affected by tyrannical regimes all over the world."

Last updated: 1:58pm, February 23 2012