Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps was inspired by the Alexander Kulisiewicz Collection, a wealth of material that came from concentration camp prisoners, which Kulisiewicz collected and preserved during his post war travels to Europe. They are stored in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.
Donald McCullough, Maestro of the Master Chorale of Washington (D.C.) Chamber Singers, investigated this material and for over a year, worked with translators and archivists to create poetry out of the uncovered texts that could be sung. The results are seen and heard in the Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps.
In 2008, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht: Night of Broken Glass, which marked the beginning of widespread and systematic persecution of the Jews, the board of the Kurt and Tessye Simon Fund for Holocaust Remembrance approached Vesper Chorale about performing the Holocaust Cantata. Vesper Chorale was requested, because of the chorale’s commitment to performing sacred music from many traditions. It was an association that was, to use a Yiddish expression, “b’sherit” or meant to be; it is the collaboration between a Christian choir and a Jewish community that WNIT-TV has sought to portray.
Stories of the Holocaust are embedded in the Jewish community. Still, the depth of feeling a Christian choir, grappling with this difficult material, most for the first time, brought to the music made the experience profoundly powerful to both performer and audience, to both Christian and Jew.
On November 15, 2009 WNIT’s cameras traveled to Temple Beth-El in South Bend and captured the sights and sounds as performed by Vesper Chorale under the direction of Wishart Bell. All of the songs in the Holocaust Cantata were originally written by prisoners while incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. The program includes commentaries from choir members as well as readings from the actual letters, written by the prisoners, by members of Temple Beth-El.
This program was underwritten by the Kurt and Tessye Fund for Holocaust Remembrance, Memorial Hospital Foundation and Roland Swanson. For WNIT, the program is produced and directed by Kelsy Zumbrun.