“What I’m asking is, please remember those that couldn’t make it, because they are in my heart until I die.” Ela Stein Weissberger
She was only 11 years old in 1942, herded into the concentration camp at Terezin with her mother, sister, and grandmother. “There were 15,000 children and only 100 survived. It is by a miracle that I can talk about it. I was saved. I think I speak in the voices of those that couldn’t make it. All that is left behind a whole generation of children are a couple of poems and pictures.”
I heard Mrs. Weissberger speaking on public radio yesterday – she’s here in Detroit for a production of Brundibar, a children’s opera that was composed and performed in the camp. She sang the lead role for all 55 performances at Terezin, and has been promoting productions of the work ever since.
“When we sang, we forgot where we were. We forgot hunger, we forgot all the troubles that we had to go through,” Mrs. Weissberger says. “When we sang Brundibar, we didn’t have to wear the Jewish star on our clothing.”
Hearing this story on the radio while reading The Book Thief was certainly appropriate. Marcus Zusak’s amazing novel about Liesl Meminger, her love of books and words, and the way she discovers the power they have to change lives during the Nazi regime, is a touching, beautifully written story.
But it’s also a necessary reminder of a horrible time in history.
“Soon, there will be no one left who remembers,” the 79 year old Weissberger said at the end of her interview yesterday. “And we must remember, because there are deniers still, and their numbers are growing.”
Zusak’s book was written and marketed for young adults, but has found a huge audience among readers of all ages. Zusak writes that he hopes the book will show “another side of Nazi Germany, a side where people did risk their lives for their Jewish friends, where there were people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous.”
Ultimately, of course, the novel is about its people. “I just honestly hope they’ll never forget the characters,” Zusak states.
That good can arise even in the midst of horror.
That music and words have great power to transform lives and sustain spirits.
Good lessons for any age.