Children's opera staged in Terezín 80 years after premiere in Jewish ghetto

Hans Krása's Brundibár was performed at the Terezín Memorial yesterday by students of a German grammar school exactly 80 years after its premiere. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 24.09.2023 09:46:00 (updated on 25.09.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Eight decades after its premiere in the Terezín ghetto, students from a grammar school in Wülfrath, Germany, brought to life Hans Krása's poignant children's opera Brundibár in the attic of the Magdeburg Barracks in the Terezín Memorial. The performance served as a powerful reminder of the resilience and hope that once thrived in the face of adversity.

The story of Brundibár, an opera depicting the defeat of an evil organ grinder, held profound significance for the people confined in the Terezin ghetto during the Nazi era. The opera, composed by Krása with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, offered a glimmer of hope to those whose dreams were often tragically cut short.

"In the time of peace and prosperity, it is hard to imagine the conditions in which the opera performance was created, but we can learn very accurately from the memories of former prisoners what it meant to them," Jan Roubínek, director of the Terezín Memorial, told local media.

The Terezín ghetto, a place of immense suffering and loss, also bore witness to remarkable acts of resilience and creativity. After being deported to Terezín, composer Krása worked with young Jewish prisoners to rehearse and perform his recently-completed opera Brundibár from memory.

Krása originally composed Brundibár for a competition organized by the Education Ministry in 1938, which was cancelled due to political events. Rehearsals for the opera took place in Prague at an orphanage for children separated from their parents during the war, but Krása himself was deported to Terezín by the time it was first staged in 1942.

During his time in Terezín, Krása served as the head of the music section of the prison administration and played a crucial role in organizing cultural and musical events within the ghetto. He was eventually reunited with much of the children's chorus and orphanage staff from the original rehearsals of Brundibár in Prague.

The Terezín premiere of Brundibár took place in the attic of the Magdeburg Barracks on September 23, 1943. The opera's final act became immensely popular among the ghetto's inhabitants and was performed approximately 55 times until September 1944.

Tragically, many of the child actors who originally performed Brundibár were transported to extermination camps, leading to their roles in the opera being taken over by newly-arrived children. Krása himself was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he died in 1944.

Today, the opera carries a profound anti-war message, resonating with audiences around the world. Versions in multiple languages, including English, German, and Hebrew, have ensured its continued relevance and impact.

"Evil is returning into people, there are attempts to occupy a territory or a nation, and it is always the children who get the worst of it," Zdena Fleglová, one of the directors of the Terezín staging Brundibár, told media.

"We need to warn people against it. The consequences are terrible, the parallels are obvious, the legacy of the Terezín children who died too soon needs to be carried on and thought about."

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