Brundibar, Ledger Paper, and Artists in Extreme Circumstances

A_Window_Om_Another_WorldSaturday evening we went to a lecture, at Burlington City Arts, about the short opera, Brundibar: A Musical Tale. Outside, the streets were filled with people. The night was relatively warm, Church street was gleefully alight, and Winterfest was in full swing. The view from the lecture room onto the world below offered a sharp contrast to the material covered in the lecture, reminding us that the children and adults of Terezin could only imagine life outside the camp, and the lives they had been forced to leave behind.

The speaker, DR. Ellen Handler Spitz, is Honors College Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Brundibar was written by Hans Krasa for children and performed some 55 times, between 1942 and 1944, at the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. It has recently been adapted by Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak, and will be performed locally next month by Theatre Kavanah, in association with Tandem Arts. Incomprehensibly, of the 16,000 children who saw, or acted in, the play at Terezin, only about 100 survived the camps.

In addition to discussing Brundibar, Dr. Spitz explored the visual art created by children and adults at Terezin. There have been numerous museum shows and books documenting this work, yet the art, created from scavenged materials, remains innovative and profound.

I was particularly struck by the artists’ use of ledger paper. Dr. Spitz Showed several slides of drawings completed on ledger paper by children in Terezin and in Darfur. (Here are links to examples from Terezin, and from Darfur.) I was immediately reminded of the ledger drawings created by Lakota, Dakota, and other Native Americans. After the presentation I brought this up with the speaker, and with the opera’s producer. (Bear in mind there were important demands on Dr. Spitz’s attention coming from many directions, as is often the case post-lecture.) Each time, the person quickly turned away and began to converse with someone else.  I was a bit taken aback; sadly, I was also not really surprised, as this sort of thing happens with great regularity.

I was left with this nagging thought: the Holocaust was patterned on the U.S. governments treatment of Native people.  As I sat with this, I became achingly aware that it is possible to speak of these three genocides, documented through ledger drawings, two woven together via the carefully planned and orchestrated use of the technologies of destruction, without diminishing any of them. It is not a competition. I believe we can honor the artists of all three, note the similarities and differences in their responses, and demand that these human disasters never be repeated.

Brundibar will be performed at Contois Auditorium in Burlington, March 11-13, and 18-20.

Addendum: This post got me to thinking and resulted in a follow up post.

10 thoughts on “Brundibar, Ledger Paper, and Artists in Extreme Circumstances

  1. I reblogged an old post recently, in memory of a young girl who died during her incarceration in one of those death camps. In it I mentioned my visit to Terezin. Very moving, very solemn. To look at all those children’s drawings, most with a date of death accompanying them.

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