One of the lesser known stories of the Holocaust is the Terezin concentration camp. All concentration camps were horrible, but this particular camp had its own brand of insidiousness.
Terezin was established in 1941 in the Czech town of Terezin as a destination for European Jews from prominent families, including many talented composers, musicians, writers and visual artists. They were encouraged to perform and practice their craft even as they suffered the same deprivations – starvation, disease and death – as prisoners in other concentration camps.
The Nazis, in turn, exploited these artists and built a propaganda narrative around Terezin for organizations like the Red Cross when they came to inspect. The Nazis would claim that the Jews weren’t suffering there, they were actually thriving creatively.
Terezin’s story is now being told in an award-winning virtual reality documentary titled “By the Waters of Babylon,” premiering this month at Carnegie Science Center’s Buhl Planetarium. It uses 360 degree videos to take viewers on an immersive tour of the concentration camp.
Viewers will discover the lives and music of many composers silenced by the Holocaust. Music was not allowed to leave the camp, but most sheet music, including complete works, was smuggled out.
In Terezin, from where prisoners were deported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, prisoners said playing music gave them hope.
“Every time I knew I had a gig, I was happy,” pianist Alice Herz-Sommer said in a 1993 BBC/Czech television documentary called “The Music of Terezin.” “We played in front of an audience of 150 elderly, desperate, sick and hungry people. They lived for the music. It was good for them. If they hadn’t come to these concerts, they would have died. And we would have.
The immersive film, “By the Waters of Babylon,” features the Clarion Quartet, colleagues from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, bringing the music of these imprisoned musicians and composers to life.
“‘By the Waters of Babylon’ invites viewers to meet at the intersection of past and present, with banned Holocaust music, its current interpretation and the latest in immersive technology,” said Lauren Bairnsfather, Director of the Holocaust Center. of Pittsburgh.
“Viewers literally travel through time and space. It has been an honor to support this project through the years of its development, and we look forward to bringing it to a live audience,” she said.
“By the Waters of Babylon” was created by award-winning filmmakers and Chatham University and Point Park University professors Kristen Lauth Shaeffer and Andrew Halasz, and was made possible by The Heinz Endowments Small Arts Initiative.
“The story of these musicians who found hope through their art, in their darkest times, resonated strongly with us,” Shaeffer and Halasz said. “This theme and the mission of the Clarion Quartet – to shine a light on the work of oppressed composers – made it a story we were compelled to tell.”
Four screenings of the documentary will take place at the Buhl Planetarium on May 18 and 31. Screenings on May 18 will include a VIP reception and discussion with the filmmakers and the Clarion Quartet.
Watch the documentary trailer and learn more about bythewatersvr.com.
Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]