Eighty years ago, when Ilse Weber was imprisoned at Theresienstadt, the young poet and author of popular children’s books composed “Wiegala,” a melodious lullaby with rhyming verses.
The soothing song gave hope and joy to the young children who were also held captive at the Nazi labor camp in the former Czechoslovakia.
Children performed the song, along with others Weber and other musicians composed in concerts that were sanctioned by the Nazis in charge of the camp. Performances were staged for foreign officials and the International Red Cross, part of a sinister ruse to hide the harsh reality of the camp (also known as Terezin) where more than 35,000 Jews died of malnutrition and 88,000 were deported to death camps.
Now, “Wiegala,” along with two of Weber’s other compositions, will ring out from the stage of Symphony Hall at the Terezin Music Foundation’s Nov. 19 annual gala concert.
“Women Artists of Terezin: Until the Song Dissolves These Walls” is being produced and directed by Mark Ludwig, founder and director of the Boston-based foundation. The title is a line from one of Weber’s poems.
The performance features the work of women composers from Terezin championed by Ludwig, a widely acclaimed scholar of music during the death camps and author of “Our Will to Live: The Terezin Music Critiques of Viktor Ullmann.”
Weber’s music is lyrical and captivating, Ludwig told the Journal. “She has a feel for the marriage of words and music, an array of emotions that express longing as well as uncertainty.”
World acclaimed pianist Simone Dinnerstein will perform works by Francois Couperin, Robert Schumann, and Philip Glass.
Cantor Shanna Zell, of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, is the soloist for Weber’s compositions, accompanied by the Brookline High School Camerata under the direction of Michael Driscoll.
Susan and Alan Solomont, Boston-area philanthropists, will receive the Terezin Legacy Award for their support of Holocaust remembrance. Alan Solomont is a former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra; Susan Solomont, a longtime advocate of women’s causes, is the author of the widely acclaimed book, “Lost and Found in Spain.”
During the concert’s narrative portions, Ludwig, Boston Symphony Orchestra violist emeritus, will shed light on the noteworthy contributions women artists made at Terezin.
Ludwig has been struck by the wide range of the composers, choreographers, and singers from across the spectrum who were central figures in Terezin’s cultural community.
“It’s a remarkable testimony to their talents and generosity of spirit. They wanted to be part of the fabric of that community that was under great duress,” he said.
Weber worked as a nurse in the children’s infirmary at Terezin. She, along with fellow prisoners Regina Jonas – the first woman to be ordained a rabbi – and Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who taught art to the children, provided comfort and support in those darkest of times.
“It was a form of healing and art as a therapeutic agent,” Ludwig underscored.
Weber was killed on Oct. 6, 1944, at Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with her youngest son, when the 41-year-old volunteered to accompany a transport of children to the death camp. Her husband, Willi, survived Auschwitz. Before the family was deported to Terezin, she had arranged through a friend for their older son, Hanuš, to be rescued from Prague.
Dicker-Brandeis and Jonas also were murdered at Auschwitz.
“One can only imagine what these songs meant to the prisoners,” Ludwig said. “In turn, it’s the gift of giving back to us to show how much music and the arts mean in our day-to-day survival.”
It was precisely the power of this music and Ludwig’s devotion to sharing it anew that turned Susan Solomont into a champion of the foundation.
At the request of a close friend who’s on the foundation’s board, Solomont agreed to meet with Ludwig. She was deeply moved by his decades-long devotion to recovering and performing this music across the globe, she told the Journal.
“To have such beauty come out of such an awful place like Terezin, this is music that people need to hear and to understand,” she recalled.
The timing proved significant. Alan Solomont was recently invited by President Biden to join the board of directors at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Susan Solomont said that as she’s listened more closely, her appreciation for the music has deepened. While some may be concerned that the music will be too sad, she encouraged them to come to the concert.
“It’s inherent upon us to keep this culture alive,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to come together as a community to understand the beauty and resilience that can be created during tragedy.
“Terezin stands for that.” Θ
For more information on the gala, visit the Terezin Music Foundation’s website at terezinmusic.org.