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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 4, December 2018

Steve Andrews
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, USA

The Suitcase

30 November 1941—Occupied Prague: Rafael Schacter, a Jewish pianist and conductor, is ordered by the Nazis to proceed to the railway station, where he and dozens of other Prague artists, musicians, and writers are transported to Terezin, an ancient, walled garrison city about 40 miles away. In his suitcase, he has his clothes and several musical scores, including Giuseppi Verdi's Requiem.

his leather chair
and books on the shelves
like old friends . . .
he turns at the door
for a final look

Terezin is billed by the Nazis as a modern Jewish settlement but is, in reality, a concentration camp filled with thousands upon thousands of Czech Jews. Once there, Schacter wastes no time. Although the Nazis have forbidden Jews to own musical instruments or to practice any artistic endeavors, he discovers a concrete-lined basement under an abandoned barracks and smuggles in a piano found elsewhere in the city. He then assembles a choir of about 150 inmates and begins teaching them the Latin lyrics of Verdi's Requiem Mass. The Nazis soon discover Schacter's efforts but allow him to continue, knowing that Terezin is merely a staging point for the transport of Jews to the death camps further east.

January 1942—Terezin: Schacter and his choir hold their first performance of the Requiem, a complex and hauntingly beautiful piece of choral music. Over the next two years, the work will be presented fourteen more times. The size of the choir dwindles with each train departure.

16 October 1944—Terezin: The Nazis stage a demonstration for the International Red Cross, forcing Schacter to perform the Requiem a final time, now with only 60 choir members. Schacter and his singers hope that at least some of the members of the Red Cross will understand Latin and the words of defiance being sung.

When the judge takes his seat
All that is hidden shall appear
Nothing will remain unavenged

17 October 1944—Terezin: Most members of the choir, including Schacter, are marched to the nearby train station and herded onto railway cattle cars for their journey to Auschwitz. As the train begins to move, a guard hurls Schacter's suitcase into a separate car.

a train unseen
by averted eyes . . .
ears still hear
its rumbling boxcars
and shrieking whistle



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