HARRISONBURG — The Madison Singers will give a voice to those who were voiceless in commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The United Nations established Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005 to honor victims and encourage Holocaust educational programs aimed at preventing genocide.
The Madison Singers, an advanced choral chamber ensemble at James Madison University, will perform “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.
“I wanted the students to sing some of the music from this time period in order to tell the stories and keep singing for those who had no voice in that period of history,” said Jo-Anne van der Vat-Chromy, director of JMU Choral Activities.
The program focuses on music and poetry from Theresienstadt, a concentration camp located in the modern-day Czech Republic that was also known as an “artists ghetto.”
“There are pieces that were sung in concentration camps. One specific song we are presenting was composed by a rabbi who was being transported to a concentration camp,” she said.
That song, “Ani Ma’amin,” or “I Believe,” was smuggled out of the concentration camp and has since become a well-known inspirational Hebrew song, according to Vat-Chromy.
Poems were discovered once the concentration camps were liberated by the Allied forces between 1944 and 1945 at the close of World War II. Some pieces were written by prisoners as young as 20 years old, Vat-Chromy said.
Other music in the program was composed after the Holocaust in memory of the tragedy.
The eight pieces of music will be performed in between readings and the guest speakers, Steven Hess and Marion Ein Lewin. The 81-year-olds are the youngest surviving twins of the Holocaust.
“For people to actually know a Holocaust survivor is becoming more rare,” Vat-Chromy said. “We need to meet and know these people and hear their stories.”
The twins were born in Amsterdam in 1938, two years after their parents fled Germany, according to a press release. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the family was taken to the Westerbork deportation camp before being sent to the famous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where Anne Frank died, the release says.
They were freed by the Russians in the eastern part of Germany in April 1945, after two weeks in a cattle boxcar train that became known as “The Lost Transport.” The family immigrated to the U.S. on Jan. 1, 1947.
Few twins survived the Holocaust because they were often subjected to cruel Nazi medical experiments.
Hess, who now lives in Rochester, N.Y., graduated from Columbia College before serving in the U.S. Navy from 1960 to 1964. He then worked for The New York Times, followed by Western Electric Co. as a public relations specialist. He became president of a photographic equipment manufacturing company, Saunders Photo/Graphic, in 1975. He sold the business in 1998. Hess is also a Holocaust scholar and teacher.
Lewin graduated from Barnard College and Columbia University. Throughout her career, Lewin has served as the director of the Center for Health Policy Research at the American Enterprise Institute, deputy director of the National Health Policy Forum at George Washington University, a health legislative aide for the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, and the senior staff officer at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science.
Lewin, who lives in Maryland, is also involved with the Council of Theater J of the D.C. Jewish Community Center and the Round House Theater in Bethesda, Md.
The goal of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is that something like the Holocaust is never repeated, and to inspire community members to stand up against hate.
“We have to tell the stories so that this never happens again,” Vat-Chromy said.
Regular admission is $19, $17 for faculty and seniors, and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.jmuforbescenter.com or by calling the box office at 540-568-7000.
Hess and Lewin will give another lecture on Monday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Forbes Center’s Concert Hall detailing their childhood experience in a concentration camp. A question and answer session with the audience will follow. The event is free and open to the public.
The Forbes Center is at 147 Warsaw Ave.