HOLOCAUST-RELATED MUSIC | HOLOCAUST-RELATED CHORAL MUSIC
AND THE TRAINS KEPT COMING...
tenor solo; bass baritone solo
narrator I: basso profundo (amplified)
narrator II: baritone (amplified)
boy mezzo-soprano; various soloists from the chorus; chorus – SATB
2 flutes, 1 oboe; 2 clarinets; 1 bassoon; 2 horns; 2 trumpets; 3 trombones;
3 percussion ; harp; piano + celesta (one player); strings
Authentic documents, memos, letters,
telegrams, notes, newspaper ads and speeches.
English, German, Polish
Cantata Singers Boston
David Hoose – music director
Cantata Singers Boston
David Hoose – music director
18 January 2008
The Cantata Singers (Boston)
James Petosa, narrator
Jason McDowell-Green, narrator
Rockland Osgood, tenor
David Kravitz, baritone
Frederick Metzger, boy-soprano
Karyl Ryczek, soprano
Carola Emrich-Fischer, alto
David Hoose, conductor
The horrifying stories and testimonies from prisoners in the Nazi death camps became known only gradually, reported to the allies by survivors, intelligence agencies, and the common people who lived close to the camps. It is hard to believe that the world, even as it was immersed in the problems of the war, could not grasp the scale of tragedy that was taking place at the death camps and, when it did-did not do much.
Was there anything the Allies could do? It is true that the British people had to overcome the blitz and maintain the existence of their country, while the Americans, after being attacked in Pearl Harbor, found themselves simultaneously on several fronts. When exhausted armies try to fight for the existence of their countries, when food is unavailable and blood is spilled in every corner of major European cities-could anyone have the means and will to stop the mass murder of six million Jews, one-half million Gypsies, at least 250,000 mentally or physically disabled persons, and more than three million Soviet prisoners-of-war?
Did the allies know what was going on in the camps? The answer is-Yes. Yet, there were several stages along the way. At first, only a few intelligence reports mentioned the murder in East Europe. Then, testimonies from people who were lucky to escape the Nazi inferno arrived, but these were partly dismissed as exaggerated and delusional. There was also a phase of denial: matching testimonies pointed out that the goals publicly stated by the Nazi regime-namely, the extermination of all Jewish people-were in operative stages, yet only few people could comprehend the figures, the horrors and the inhumanity. The denial at the early stages of the war was shared even by the Jewish communities in the United Kingdom, the United States, and those in the yet-to-be-born state of Israel.
At the beginning of the war, Allied armies indeed were unable to reach East Europe. But at a later stage, from August 1944, airplanes frequently passed over near the death camps, which were continually running at full capacity. When thousands of bombs fell over Germany, when hundreds of pleading letters and telegrams were piled at the war departments of the British and US armies, why did no one give the order to bomb the tracks to Auschwitz and other camps, not to mention the gas chambers and crematoria? Such could have prevented the deaths of thousands. Reports from survivors even mention the strong wish to be bombed by the Allies’ airplanes, as this would have given them more hope than the certain death waiting at the gas chamber. Why was nothing done?
With that question in mind, I started researching various archives, tracing authentic letters, memos, telegraphs, protocols and other means of correspondence between the Allies. Most of them were previously marked as “secret” or “confidential.” The findings were shocking. The slow wheels of bureaucracy, the careless diplomats and decision makers, the officers who sat in their remote offices and saw victims and refugees as numbers on the page, answering in a cold bureaucratic manner to matters of life and death had all contributed to inaction. In some cases, especially in the British Colonial Office that dealt with refugees, officers at all ranks had halted, delayed and diverted refugees from entering the country and, consequently, sentenced many of them to death. Many emotional statements by the Allied high command expressed support for the refugees, but the actions of subordinates seldom reflected that support.
These bureaucratic, robotically written documents are naturally very cold and selfishly efficient. Another type of “efficiency,” though more vicious and hair-raising, is the Nazi bureaucratic correspondence: train schedules, stating origin, destination, time and number of “passengers.” On their return, the trains traveled empty; all was done according to schedule. For me, trains have always symbolized freedom- discovery of new landscapes, motion, and optimism. But here, the trains are trains of horror, where eighty to one hundred people were shoved into a cattle car with no water or food, traveling for days, sometimes weeks while standing on dead bodies en route to an “unknown destination.”
And yet, with all this cold correspondence–the real suffering is that of the individuals. I researched and found hundreds of testimonies, from people who were trapped in the trains, people who escaped the camps, adults who told their childhood stories, people who watched the Allies’ airplanes fly over Auschwitz, and even a woman who was already inside the gas chamber and miraculously released. I found heart-rending letters and farewell notes that were written and concealed in the cracks of the barracks by prisoners on their last day on earth. This is the personal side to vicious action and official inaction-it is completely contrary to the dry, mechanical bureaucratic correspondences.
Thus, And the Trains Kept Coming . . .juxtaposes these heart-breaking documents with the cold and calculated ones, slowly unveiling the tragedy. Following the nature of each document, the work is structured as a series of un-staged scenes, which change quite rapidly; each contributes another perspective to the broad picture. Unlike an opera, in which each singer usually portrays one character, the vocal soloists, narrators and choir portray multiple characters, contradicting each other. The distinction between good and bad becomes blurry-a feeling that many survivors mentioned. The choir for example, portrays the voice of the people, acting as a Greek chorus, or as a catalyst that pushes the plot forward. The work as a whole is in one movement and proceeds in chronological order according to the historical developments.
While And the Trains Kept Coming . . . focuses on the Holocaust and its graveness, it reflects as well the ability of humans to ignore the suffering of another nation or individual. This of course still takes place today, ranging from the genocide in Darfur to events in the Middle East, to the homeless lying on the curb next to the local drugstore.
I would like to thank and credit the following people and institutes:
Evan Fallenberg – Hebrew – English translations, English texts consultant
Carola Emrich – German translation
Blanka Bednarz – Polish consultant
Markus Goessl and Inge Huhn – assistance with German Documents
The Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, Israel
The Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, Israel
Joseph Wulf Bibliothek, Wannsee, Germany
The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH, USA
And the Trains Kept Coming… was commissioned by the Cantata Singers, David Hoose, Music Director. Boston, MA, 2007. It is the third work in the Cantata Singers’ Slavery Documents series.