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ClassicsOnline Home » LAITMAN, L.: Vedem / Fathers (Music of Remembrance)
Every Friday for two years between 1942 and 1944, a group of teenage boy prisoners in the Terezín concentration camp shared their poems, stories and artwork in a secret magazine they called Vedem. Most of those boys perished in the Holocaust, but the pages of their magazine have miraculously been preserved. Inspired by this legacy, American vocal composer Lori Laitman has created an oratorio that gives new voice to the young prisoners’ unbending resistance to those who sought to rob them of their humanity. Using verses of the boys’ own poetry, this hauntingly beautiful music pays profound tribute to the power of the human spirit. Vedem was commissioned by Music of Remembrance, a Seattle-based organization dedicated to remembering Holocaust musicians through their art.
Lori Laitman (b. 1955)
World première: 10 May 2010, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA, at Music of Remembrance’s Holocaust Remembrance concert. Vedem was commissioned by Music of Remembrance and made possible by a generous gift from the William O. and K. Carole Ellison Foundation.
The fate of children in the Holocaust represents a uniquely haunting tragedy. It has been estimated that over one million children were murdered under Nazi rule. Children had even smaller chances of surviving than adults. In Terezín alone, some 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the concentration camp between 1942 and 1944. Only a few hundred were alive at the war’s end.
Terezín’s Jewish council of elders sought to ease the ordeal facing the camp’s children by placing them in buildings where conditions were better than in the barracks housing most adults. By February 1942, the first children’s homes were established. Building L410 became a home for girls, Building L417 a boy’s dormitory. Each room in these buildings was assigned an adult leader.
Valtr Eisinger, an imaginative and farsighted educator, was the leader of the fourteen-year-old boys in Building L417’s room designated as Home One. He helped the boys to imagine their room as an idealistic society called The Republic of Shkid, a cryptic reference to a Russian book that used this acronym for a school for homeless orphans. The boys in Home One were united in mutual support, and they sang an anthem that pledged faith in the ideals of peace, equality and brotherhood.
The boys also created poetry, essays and illustrations for a clandestine magazine that they called Vedem (Czech for “In the Lead”). Every Friday night for two years between 1942 and 1944, they read aloud their week’s contributions. Their writings reveal inspirational courage, passionate idealism, and wisdom far beyond the years of their young authors. They also display amazing literary talent. At age fourteen, Petr Ginz became Vedem’s first and only editor-in-chief. At age sixteen, he was sent to his death in Auschwitz.
Sidney Taussig, the only boy from Home One to remain in Terezín until the end of the war, had the foresight to bury 800 pages of the manuscript, and he and his father returned with it to Prague after liberation. These pages give us a precious glimpse of the world of boys torn from their childhoods and separated from their families. The words tell of the boys’ experience in the camp, and of the dreams for a better world that only a few of them would live to see.
In 1995, selections from Vedem were compiled in the book We Are Children Just the Same. For many years it was my vision that Music of Remembrance would commission a work to share this remarkable legacy through music. Composer Lori Laitman was uniquely suited to create this oratorio communicating the boys’ words, their hopes and dreams, in the voice of the teenagers. She has an exceptional gift for setting words to music, and for capturing the depth of human experience with emotional and artistic honesty. Poet David Mason, her librettist for Vedem, has been a true partner in this collaboration, and this oratorio reflects their hearts as well as their talents. As proud as we are of the music and the performers, we must never forget that Vedem’s story and words do not belong to us. They belong to the boys whose courage gave the world this remarkable legacy. About one hundred boys passed through Terezín’s Home One; fifteen of them are known to have survived the Holocaust. Six are alive today—living across four countries on three continents. We were deeply honored that four of them travelled to Seattle in May 2010 to join us for the world première of Vedem.
— Mina Miller
When Mina Miller asked me to compose an oratorio based on the story of the clandestine magazine Vedem, I was immediately captivated by the courage of the boys of Terezín as well as the depth and beauty of their art. I asked poet David Mason, with whom I had collaborated on my opera The Scarlet Letter, to create a libretto. The result was a brilliant verse drama, entwined with six of the original Vedem poems. David’s libretto captured not only the tragic aspects of the boys’ lives, but also their humanity—their little worries, their spirited response to adversity, their yearnings, and their humor—and I responded to his text, crafting dramatic music to express an equal range of emotions. For the Boychoir, I fashioned melodies appropriate for children to sing (listen for the Vedem tune) and reserved the more vocally intricate sections for the adult soloists. These solo songs can be performed independently as a song cycle.
Leitmotifs unify the score: The music to Hear My Story Now appears throughout, creating a subliminal musical call to remember. The Transports also introduces an instrumental interlude; the “secret” of this motif is revealed in the last movement, as the melody is finally joined to words as the tenor sings the names of the dead. The theme from Dvořák’s Humoresque serves as a counterpoint to Love In The Floodgates, inspired by survivor Emil Kopel enduring a death march to Buchenwald by replaying this tune in his head. Vedem was composed between May 2009 and January 2010.
— Lori Laitman
Fathers (2002, rev. 2010)
World première of mezzo-soprano version (2010): 13 March 2010, in Seattle, WA, at Music of Remembrance’s Sparks of Glory concert.
Fathers sets poems by Sri Lankan poet Anne Ranasinghe and the late Russian poet David Vogel, whose work I had previously drawn on for Holocaust 1944 and Daughters. A sequel to Daughters, Fathers also focuses on the parent-child bond permanently altered by the Holocaust: Ranasinghe's father was murdered by the Nazis and David Vogel was arrested by the Nazis, then disappeared forever.
The dark subject matter and length of the poems You, Father, Last Night I Dreamt, and I Saw My Father Drowning created particular challenges. To balance the work structurally and psychologically, I created fragments from the short, hopeful last song, Don’t Cry, and “buried” them throughout the cycle.
You, Father underscores the idea of a camera capturing a moment in time with sections repeatedly coming to a close with a fermata. Last Night I Dreamt employs word painting and extremes of timbre to create a dreamy, surreal atmosphere. The motif for I Saw My Father Drowning is transferred between instruments and voice, and the piano’s sparkling upper register creates the effect for the “sky’s canopy” at the song’s close.
The full version of Don’t Cry ends the cycle. The completion of this theme, with its soothing and repetitive nature, reinforces its use as a “healing balm.”
— Lori Laitman
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LAITMAN, L.: Vedem / Fathers (Music of Remembrance...