Remembering Raphael-Rafi Schachter final act -72 years later

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The only known photo of Theresienstadt inmates performing Verdi’s Requiem Mass, taken during the final performance on June 23, 1944. Raphael ‘Rafi’ Schachter is seen conducting the choir, with Adolf Eichmann and an International Red Cross delegation in the audience (courtesy: The Terezin Foundation)

Jewish Prisoners sing to the Nazis, Verdi’s Requiem a Catholic funeral mass for the dead, On June 23-1944

Despite starvation and rampant illness in Theresienstadt ghetto and camp in Terzin during World War 2, Raphael Schachter a Czech Jewish Conductor known as Rafi trained dozens of fellow inmates to perform Verdi’s Requiem on sixteen occasions. There was only one score to go around, smuggled in by Schachter, so he taught the choir by rote. The inmate choir was always hungry, not to mention exhausted from forced labor; many were ill.

As Schachter’s barracks mate and co-conspirator in music, Edgar Krasa who survived the Holocaust, sang bass in the choir of all sixteen performances. Toward the end of the camp’s existence, both men were deported to Auschwitz, after which Schachter died in a death march.

Edgar says “Rafi Schachter made the prisoners feel they had some element of control over their circumstances, and that they weren’t just puppets waiting to be brought to their deaths,” “Schachter took the prisoners from despondency of their fate to direct action and participation, and this gave them a lot of strength and some power,” “He gave them a choice.”

Raphael Schaechter

Raphael Schachter Czech Jewish Conductor

“People are always going to create, even when they are confronted with the most terrible situations that life deals out, they will still react, and they still have humanity”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Theresienstadt’s Council of Jewish Elders — nominally in charge of the ghetto — was vehemently opposed to Schachter’s productions. Not only were Jews performing a Catholic funeral mass, but also it was possible the camp’s Nazi rulers would see an act of defiance and deport the entire cast. It was also said that by performing their own funeral mass, the Jewish prisoners were “apologizing for existing.”

requiem_poster

Poster of Verdi’s Requiem

To end the debate, Schachter offered each performer the opportunity to bow out of the production, but not one of them did so. After performing the Requiem fifteen times to enraptured audiences, the inmate choir gathered for what would be its final performance on June 23, 1944.

Seated in the front row was Adolf Eichmann, a key architect of the Holocaust’s logistics, and other SS officials. A Red Cross delegation was also in attendance, as part of its mission to vet the camp for signs of genocide. If only in the minds of the imprisoned choir members, Verdi’s funeral mass was used to condemn the Nazi perpetrators watching their Jewish victims perform.

As Schachter most famously told his choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”

The conclusion if you read the [Requiem’s] text as a prisoner not as a Catholic, then the secret comes out as to why they did it.

Lyrics of

Requiem Aeternum

 

 Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord

And let perpetual light shine upon them

A hymn, O God, becometh Thee in Zion

And a vow shall be paid to thee in Jerusalem

Hear my prayer

 

All flesh shall come before you

Eternal rest give unto the dead, O Lord

And let perpetual light shine upon them

Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord

And let perpetual light shine upon them.

 

Lord, have mercy on us.

Christ, have mercy on us.

Lord, have mercy on us.

 

This day, this day of wrath

shall consume the world in ashes,

as foretold by David and the Sibyl.

 

What trembling there will be

When the judge shall come

to weigh everything strictly!

 

The trumpet, scattering its awful sound

Across the graves of all lands

Summons all before the throne.

 

Death and nature shall be stunned

When mankind arises

To render account before the judge.

 

The written book shall be brought

In which all is contained

Whereby the world shall be judged

 

When the judge takes his seat

all that is hidden shall appear

Nothing will remain unavenged.

 

What shall I, a wretch, say then?

To which protector shall I appeal

When even the just man is barely safe?

 

– Rex tremendae— King of awful majesty

You freely save those worthy of salvation

Save me, found of pity.

 

–Recordare—- Remember, gentle Jesus

that I am the reason for your time on earth,

do not cast me out on that day

 

Seeking me, you sank down wearily,

you saved me by enduring the cross,

such travail must not be in vain.

 

Righteous judge of vengeance,

award the gift of forgiveness

before the day of reckoning.

 

—Ingemisco—– I groan as one guilty,

my face blushes with guilt;

spare the suppliant, O God.

 

Thou who didsnt absolve Mary [Magdalen]

and hear the prayer of the thied

hast given me hope, too.

 

My prayers are not worthy,

but Thou, O good one, show mercy,

lest I burn in everlasting fire,

 

Give me a place among the sheep,

and separate me from the goats,

placing me on Thy right hand.

 

When the damned are confounded

and consigned to keen flames,

call me with the blessed.

 

I pray, suppliant and kneeling,

a heart as contrite as ashes;

take Thou my ending into Thy care.

 

–Lacrimosa—- That day is one of weeping,

on which shall rise again from the ashes

the guilty man, to be judged.

 

Therefore spare this one, O God,

merciful Lord Jesus:

Give them rest. Amen.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory,

deliver the soulds of all the faithful departed

from the pains of Hell

and the bottomless pit.

 

Deliver them from the jaws of the lion,

lest hell engulf them,

lest they be plunged into darkness;

 

but let the holy standard-bearer Michael

lead them into the holy light,

as once you promised to Abraham

and to his seed.

 

Lord, in praise we offer you

Sacrifices and prayers,

accept them on behalf of those

who we remember this day:

 

Lord, make them pass

from death to life,

as once you promised to Abraham

and to his seed.

 

Holy, holy, holy

Lord God of hosts!

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest!

 

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest!

 

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,

Grant them rest.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,

Grant them eternal rest.

 

Let everlasting light shine on them, O Lord

with your saints for ever:

for you art merciful.

 

Eternal rest grant them, O Lord;

and let perpetual light shine upon them.

With your saints for ever

for Thou art merciful.

 

Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death

on that awful day

when the heavens and earth shall be shaken

and you shall come to judge the world by fire.

 

I am seized with fear and trembling

until the trial is at hand and the wrath to come:

when the heavens and earth shall be shaken.

Note (Raphael Schachter did make some minor changes to the original score which was played in Terezin, but the amazing fact is that the entire choir sang the entire parts in orignal Latin by rote even though they never had ever read or learnt a word of Latin) 
A must see film based on Raphael Schachter-Defiant Requiem-link below
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One thought on “Remembering Raphael-Rafi Schachter final act -72 years later

  1. A heart touching performance of perfection in a time when there was no hope.
    Thank you for keeping their memories alive.

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