‘We live in testament to your creative humanity.’

During the Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Tucson, a moving responsive reading by Lena Rivkin was held that reminded me of post war discussions on the role of art in relation to the Holocaust. The very theme of the commemoration was art as an essential part of human existence. So many artistic talents were lost…

Holocaust survivor during the Tucson ceremony of lighting candles, accompanied by contemporary Jewish artist

Holocaust survivor during the ceremony of lighting candles, accompanied by a contemporary Jewish artist

This was the text of the readings:

“The loss of artistic output during the Holocaust is staggering and incalculable. It rends the heart to imagine the rich creative rewards the world would have gained if these artists had been allowed to live and create, if they had not been murdered.

Yitzhak Rabin said: “There is no recompense for the liquidation of the fountains of creativity and wisdom that were burned in the fires”. We have lost irreplaceable treasures of musicians and composers that may have led our souls in a communal symphony of beauty. Yet we continue to dream big, dare to play and transcend our daily struggle with deliberate joy.

If we multiply the cultural loss of the artists murdered in the full flower of their creativity by the children whose creative possibilities remain only whispered promises lost in the dark forest, the loss is intenable. Yet the words of poets and authors live in us all. The flowering spirit of creation is stronger than the mightiest metal of destruction. The life force of imagination and creation runs in a strong line from those we remember to all of us here today.

We live in testament to your creative humanity.”

A very touching text. Just as in Holland: a whole sector of musical life was wiped out, and then a whole tradition, a whole branch of the tree got destroyed.

After the war, anything in art that smelled of emotion or humanism immediately became associated with National Socialism which more or less is the context out of which the post war avant garde movement arose. The stereotypical image of a Gestapo concentration camp leader who would cry during a Schubert song and then murder thousands of Jews, reminds me of what Adorno said: art needs to be responsible even for its own consequences. It was a big burden on artists, but you have to see these discussions in the light of what had just happened.

During the commemoration in Tucson, it was precisely the human aspect of art that was shown so convincingly. Art goes in cycles and, after fifty years of modernism in music, the pendulum is finally swinging back. It was telling that in Tucson, they played the music of a neo-classicist, pre-modernist Jewish composer. Dutch as well! The Teresienstadt composers seem to speak more, because they composed music in a camp. But that doesn’t mean that other music wasn’t destroyed –  or fortunately, in the case of Leo Smit, not destroyed.  It means a lot for me and for the musical tradition I choose to be part of, that Leo Smit was played during this ceremony in which art in relation to the Holocaust was the central theme.

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