`Defiant Requiem,’ Proud City
Tue, 04/30/2013
Special to the Jewish Week
Benjamin Brafman
Benjamin Brafman

This past Monday at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center in Manhattan, I along with a thousand other patrons attended an extraordinary concert "Defiant Requiem: Verdi At Terezin.”

The event was produced under the guidance of Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, board chair of The Defiant Requiem Foundation, and UJA-Federation of New York. It honored the memory and exquisite courage of Czech-Jewish musician Rafael Schachter and members of the remarkable Jewish prisoner-choir he organized amidst the brutality of the Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II.

According to survivor accounts, many camp inmates were able to survive in part because of their participation in the chorus, which helped them hold onto the belief that civilized humanity could not be completely destroyed so long as they could sing and still create beautiful music.

In 1944, the Nazis forced the Terezin chorus to perform for visiting Red Cross officials as part of a demented Nazi propaganda scheme designed to fool visiting officials to believe that the inmates were well treated, and that rumors of mass murder and genocide could not be true in a place that produced such wonderful, talented singers and musicians. Soon after their command performance for the Red Cross, Schachter and many in the chorus were deported to Auschwitz where they were gassed and cremated.

In addition to an evening that underscored the integrity and courage of the human spirit even under the most horrific conditions, the event also underscored the courage, "defiance" and vitality of New York City and its cultural vibrancy, intent on proceeding with all scheduled events despite the horrors of the Boston massacre still so fresh in our minds and hearts

As we entered the venue, it was apparent that a heightened security contingent was present and vigilant. As one who has professionally interacted with the law enforcement community for almost 40 years, many of the uniformed personnel and plain-clothes security officers looked familiar. Personal greetings exchanged; me thanking them for being there, they telling me they were just doing their jobs. Just doing their jobs; protecting us, allowing a great city to function responsibly, with all of us hoping there will never be a next time.

As a cultural treasure in a great city, Lincoln Center is considered by law enforcement to be a "soft" target, which in post 9-11 terror fighting parlance essentially describes a place where large groups of people are known to congregate, often distracted by the performance they came to enjoy. A seemingly attractive target for a terrorist looking to inject fear and do potential harm.  Add to that equation the program at Lincoln Center that night, underwritten by a Jewish charity intended to honor the memory of those lost in the Holocaust and you have a confluence of factors that even under normal circumstances invites understandable heightened concern.

Perhaps on other nights at other concerts, but not Monday evening at Lincoln Center. Not on a night dedicated to the memory of those who stood in "defiance" of terrorists, defiantly singing   beautiful music in a concentration camp, music that today, 70 years later, still soothes the soul. Music that makes us understand that although evil exists, it cannot defeat good, strong citizens who strive to live in peace and freedom, and to enjoy an exquisite program of magnificent music in the cultural heart of New York City.

So thank you for the collective genius that combined to create a spectacular event and thank you to the wonderful young men and women who protect us and guard us, and who when needed, always respond with great heroism. We are a free people who remember with great sadness all of the horrific acts of terror from the Holocaust, to 9-11 to Boston. We will always remember the innocent lives brutally taken or forever maimed by senseless violence. But we must also refuse to be a "soft" target. We choose not to be a target at all, but there is nothing soft about singing Verdi in a concentration camp and nothing soft at all about the many hundreds of people who showed up to support, celebrate and applaud true heroism.

Benjamin Brafman is an attorney in New York.

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As one of the singers (and Chorus President of the City Choir of Washington, DC) who performed the Defiant Requiem, I can say that it was our honor and privilege to do so. By performing this signal work, we remember and honor the many acts of courage and heroism of our brother and sister musicians who defied the Nazis in Terezin during perhaps the darkest hour in human history. Yet performing art cannot exist without an audience; thanks to all who showed their defiance and human spirit by showing up for the event!

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