Saturday, January 10, 2009

Terezin, Theresienstadt. Brundibar and The Music of Terezin - Josa Karas; Hans Krasa

Terezin - a/k/a Theresienstadt.
A Ghetto, A Concentration Camp
A Place of Death, Deceit, and Music?
Sometimes it takes an obituary to fill in history not told elsewhere. And about a neighbor. And opera and symphonic works in a concentration camp.
Josa Karas.

Here, we learn from the New York Times in 2008 (October 7, we think) that one Josa Karas died.
He was born in 1926 in Warsaw, and apparently lived in Czechoslovakia. He collected the music of those imprisoned, many killed, at Terezein 1941-1941. He was 82, not a Jew, and apparently lived in nearby Bloomfield, here in the US.  He began teaching at the University of Hartford's Hartt School of Music in 1955.

We never knew. Obituary by Douglas Martin.
Karas wrote the book, "Music in Terezin  1941-1945."
The work of the composers was actually done in Terezin, that we visited and saw as a converted old army garrison with barracks with substantial brick walls and a grid of streets intersecting in orderly ways, in service in different capacities for several centuries.
He collected 50 compositions, and those have been performed often. There were four concert orchestras there, many chamber groups, and an opera group  - fodder for the Nazi propaganda about the fine conditions for living there.


When the Red Cross came to inspect, see "The Red Cross Visit to Theresienstadt," photos and text at ://, the old and sick were gassed. Flowers appeared in boxes, and there was a new "chocolate shop."  The Red Cross was duly impressed and wrote a report of good conditions there for temporary housing for Jews.

See a propaganda film itself, at YouTube at, a "documentary" -"Theresienstadt: Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem judischen Seidlun."  This may be a portion of a larger film on Auschwitz?

Read at that site the history of Theresienstadt, its early history, and death statistics. 
But it was a place of execution, death by disease, suffering, for some 140,000 Jews over time, including Petr Ginz, see Petr Ginz, Lens, Places, Lens and Legacy. See a photo of some of the children there at the time of the Red Cross visit, and an orchestra performing there,  from the US Holocaust Museum Exhibit at ://
Name names:
  • Composer Viktor Ullman, studied under Schoenberg; 
  • also Hans Krasa, 
  • Gideon Klein, 
  • Pavel Haas. 

Hans Krasa and "Brundibar."

Krasa had begun work on a children's opera in Prague with another musician, Adolf Hoffmeister, librettist; and it found its way to the ghetto-concentration camp at Terezin.  See WNYC at :// oversaw its performance, and it became a particular favorite at the camp (performed 55 times) - a children's opera, "Brundibar."  See also "Welcome to Brundibar," at; and from PBS at
Mr. Karas did a revision for performances, and presented it in Czech in 1975, and in English in 1977. The story:  two children, thwarted in getting milk for their ailing mother by an evil organ grinder.
The obituary ends with a quotation from Mr. Karas: "When I started my research, I used to have nighmares. And guilt. I'd pick up a piece of chocolate and couldn't eat it." Then he got over it, saying that Czechs can get used to anything, even the gallows.

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