Defiant Requiem — The Documentary
Defiant Requiem, a feature-length documentary film, highlights the most dramatic example of intellectual and artistic courage in the Theresienstadt (Terezín) Concentration Camp during World War II: the remarkable story of Rafael Schächter, a brilliant, young Czech conductor who was arrested and sent to Terezín in 1941. He demonstrated moral leadership under the most brutal circumstances, determined to sustain courage and hope for his fellow prisoners by enriching their souls through great music. His most extraordinary act was to recruit 150 prisoners and teach them Verdi’s Requiem by rote in a dank cellar using a single score, over multiple rehearsals, and after grueling days of forced labor. The Requiem was performed on 16 occasions for fellow prisoners. The last, most infamous performance occurred on June 23, 1944 before high-ranking SS officers from Berlin and the International Red Cross to support the charade that the prisoners were treated well and flourishing.
With testimony provided by surviving members of Schächter’s choir, soaring concert footage, cinematic dramatizations, and evocative animation, this unique film explores the singers’ view of the Verdi as a work of defiance and resistance against the Nazis. The text of the Requiem Mass enabled them, as Schächter told the chorus, to “sing to the Nazis what they could not say to them.”
The Defiant Requiem Foundation collaborated with Partisan Pictures to produce Defiant Requiem. Conceived by Foundation President and Founder, Murry Sidlin, a distinguished conductor, educator, and artistic innovator, Defiant Requiem was written and directed by Doug Shultz. The Executive Producer is Peter Schnall, founder of Partisan Pictures.
Defiant Requiem was broadcast nationwide on PBS in the spring of 2013, on BBC4 in the United Kingdom in early 2014, and on France Télévisions in May 2015. The film was selected by DocuWeeks as one of only twenty documentaries nationwide to screen in theaters in New York and Los Angeles in August 2012 as part of this annual one-week showcase. Defiant Requiem was named Best Feature Length Documentary at the Big Apple Film Festival in New York City and was the runner-up for the Audience Award in January 2013 at the Palm Springs Film Festival. In 2014 Defiant Requiem was nominated for two News and Documentary Emmy Awards: Outstanding Historical Documentary Long Form and Outstanding Writing.
* * *
The famous German rabbi and philosopher Leo Baeck was sent to Terezín in 1943 where he became a spiritual leader and symbol of moral courage. Immediately after the war, he wrote a short essay about his experiences at Terezín which included an inspiring personal statement about the arts community in the camp:
In the sheltering darkness of the long evenings, they were together in the cold and gloomy attic of a barrack, close under the roof. There they stood, pressed close to each other, to hear a talk about the Bible and the Talmud, about Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, about Descartes and Spinoza, about Locke and Hume and Kant or about days and problems of history, about poetry and art and music, about Palestine of old and today, about the Commandments, the Prophets, and the Messianic idea. All those hours were hours in which a community arose out of the mass and the narrowness grew wide. They were hours of freedom.
This is our film.