Survivor recalls music that came out of Holocaust

MILLEDGEVILLE -- Even Alfred Schneider admits that the title of his lecture, “Music and the Holocaust,” presents an unusual dichotomy.

“One is mankind’s noblest contribution, and the Holocaust is something we don’t fully understand to this day,” Schneider said.

Schneider, 86, who survived the war in a ghetto in Romania that was later occupied by the German army, spoke to a group of about 50 people Sunday in a packed meeting room at Georgia College & State University’s Black Box Theatre.

Schneider said he became interested in the music that came out of the Holocaust after retiring as a nuclear physics professor at Georgia Tech and MIT.

Schneider’s wife, Tosia, often spoke of her own experiences in several concentration camps during the war, which she later documented in her book, “Someone Must Survive To Tell The World.” Alfred Schneider decided to focus his lectures on music, which is one of his passions.

“There’s something in music that’s unique,” he said. “It doesn’t need translation. Music is something we all understand.”

Schneider gave about an hour-long lecture that included a power-point presentation with selections of music that ranged from pieces that were banned by the Nazis before the war began to the works of Jewish composers who were killed in concentration camps.

After opening with a violin concerto by Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn, Schneider recalled when the piece was played in Munich after the war.

“Could you imagine (the Nazis) wouldn’t let us listen to this for 13 years?” Schneider recalled a woman saying to him at the time.

Much of Schneider’s presentation Sunday focused on the music created at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, located in Czechoslovakia. That camp, also known as Terezin, has special significance for GCSU Theatre Department Chairwoman Karen Berman, who co-wrote the play “The Flights of Jan Wiener” with her husband Paul Accettura. The subject of the play, Wiener, was a World War II aviator who escaped Czechoslovakia to fight with the British Royal Air Force. Wiener’s mother died at Terezin.

Berman took a group of GCSU theatre majors to the Czech Republic last month to perform the 45-minute play, and while they were over there, they visited Terezin.

When Berman decided to mount the production at the Black Box Theatre this Thursday at 8 p.m., officials with the Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta told her about Schneider and how his lecture about music might give some added context to the play. The play is free to the public.

“It was so moving,” Berman said of the Sunday lecture. “I believe the students in the play will be able to take back some of that emotion in their performances.”

Justin Harrison, a senior at GCSU, is the stage manager for the play and made the trip last month.

He said seeing the concentration camp first-hand and meeting survivors like Schneider gives him much more insight into the Holocaust beyond what he was taught in high school and college.

“It was a very emotional experience (visiting Terezin),” Harrison said. “Of course, we learned about it in high school and college, but seeing such a horrible place was a heart wrenching experience.”

Schneider noted that Terezin was unusual among the Nazis’ concentration camps, in that they used that specific camp to show International Red Cross workers that Jewish prisoners weren’t suffering. They arranged music performances from the adults and children who were interred in the camp.

Of the 144,000 Jews who were sent to that camp, 33,000 died there, while another 88,000 were sent to Auschwitz, the largest of all the concentration camps. Schneider said of the 15,000 children at Terezin, only 100 survived.

Schneider was able to obtain photographs and some old film of the choir rehearsing at the camp.

Jay Goldstein, a Milledgeville resident who served with Patton’s 3rd Armored Division, liberated several concentration camps. He said he never saw anything relating to music and art at the camps -- only death.

“I saw a lot of horrible stuff,” he said. “You can talk about the camps, you can describe the camps, but something you can’t reflect is the odor of death. That’s something I’ll never be able to get out of my system.”

Schneider noted that in a few years from now, there will no longer be any survivors or witnesses from the Holocaust to tell their stories, which is why he talks about the subject.

“It’s very important that (future generations) get the message,” he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.