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March 17, 2017

‘Defiant Requiem’ in Chicago a revival of Verdi sung in concentration camp

By Howard Reich

Verdi’s Requiem never had been performed under circumstances like these.

On June 23, 1944, the sick and starving inmates of the Terezin ghetto/concentration camp in Czechoslovakia sang the massive work for Nazi officers and members of the International Red Cross.

As the performance unfolded, the choristers in Terezin — a “holding pen for Jews” to be shipped to death camps in the east, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum — knew full well the meaning of the Latin words they sang. Though conceived as a Catholic Mass for the dead, the work became a cry from the nearly dead, the singers bringing new meanings to the text:

“Deliver me …,” “… whatever is hidden will be revealed …,” “… nothing shall remain unavenged …,” “… from the ashes, the guilty man to be judged …,” “… how great will be the terror, when the Judge comes.”