Christ in Auschwitz
After the enthusiastic and successful Premiere of Ludger Vollmer’s refugee teen-opera Border on Wednesday, it was straight into staging rehearsals for my next piece, Mieczysław Weinberg’s Die Passagieren (The Passenger); from refugees to concentration camps!
Weinberg was a Jewish-Polish composer who had fled to Russia in 1939. Although the opera was written in 1968, it was banned by the Soviet Union, and it didn’t receive it’s first staging until only a few years back in Bregenz. Our performance will be the German premiere. It is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Zofia Posmysz.
Posmysz, now 88, wrote her novel in 1962 after a chilling experience in Paris three years earlier when she mistook the shrill yelling of a German tourist for one of her Auschwitz guards: “It wasn’t her… But still my heart stopped beating for a moment. And then I thought: what would I have done if it had been her?”
She was haunted by the same question during the trial in Krakow of the Auschwitz camp supervisor Mandel and Kommandant Höss, wondering if her own block warder might be among them. But justice never caught up with her. “Leave judgment to God,” she said. In writing the novel, she focused on the psychological drama, rather than the struggle to stay alive: “To reproduce the reality of Auschwitz, one would have to describe… how one makes it through 15 minutes.” Words, she said, cannot describe the full horror. Nor painting. “Perhaps only music.”
– Dalya Alberge
It really is humbling to feel the weight that comes knowing that my character, Tadeusz, is based on a real person. The courage was real courage, of someone who actually stood in that situation.
In the opera, Tadeusz paints a medallion of his fiancee, Martha (the main character) for her. In reality, Zofia and Tadeusz met three times, and on the third meeting he gave her a medallion with the image of Christ.
One scene in the opera depicts a prisoner designing a medallion. Some prisoners had to produce jewellery for the SS. One of them risked his life secretly making her a delicate pendant that features the head of Christ crowned with barbed-wire and inscribed “Auschwitz 1943”. She wears it to this day. – Dalya Alberge
It is a powerful piece, because it is a powerful, true story, and I feel the weight of honouring it.