TEREZIN, Czech Republic - Edgar Krasa took part in one of the ennobling acts of the Holocaust. He didn't take up arms in a ghetto insurrection, or fight in the Jewish underground. Instead, he and several hundred fellow concentration camp inmates defied the Nazis through music.
For Krasa, the road began at the Masaryk Railway Station in the Czech capital, Prague. It was Nov. 24, 1941, and the Nazi machine was crushing one of the oldest Jewish communities of Europe. Over the next four years, thousands of its artists, writers, musicians and professionals would be transported from the Prague area to the fortress-turned-concentration camp where Krasa was sent that day: Terezin.
The 21-year-old cook got off the train with 340 other Jews and trudged across a bleak countryside shouldering the 110 pounds of possessions each was permitted to bring. The Germans were billing Terezin, 38 miles northwest of Prague, as a "spa town" generously offered by Hitler to shelter Jews from the escalating war in Europe.
The reality of Terezin could not be more different.
Krasa remembers how conditions deteriorated rapidly as military barracks were converted to stack arrivals. A town built to accommodate 5,000, Terezin's inmate population would reach 55,000. Typhus epidemics, overwork, executions and severe malnutrition scythed through its ranks.
A week after Krasa's arrival, a young Prague musician, Rafael Schachter, turned up at Terezin, and the two shared an attic room. "He was my hero. His vision was to make the lives of every prisoner more bearable."
Schachter gathered inmates to sing popular Czech songs, then entire operas and finally led them in rehearsals of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem Mass, a towering work that challenges the world's finest musicians.
The rehearsals were initially carried out in secret, but Jewish elders were able to persuade camp commanders to allow such activities so they could demonstrate to the world the Nazis' "goodwill" toward the Jews.
Krasa, who once crooned in a barber shop quartet, sang in all 16 performances of the Requiem at Terezin. The final one was on June 23, 1944, given before senior Nazis, including the principal architect of the genocide Adolf Eichmann, and an International Red Cross delegation.
In March, Krasa and his wife attended a special concert at the 19th-century Konzerthaus in Berlin. Verdi's masterwork paid tribute to Schachter, his fellow musicians and the power of art over evil.
Above the orchestra, among a 150-strong chorus clad in black, Krasa's 18-year-old grandson Alexander and sons Daniel and Rafael were singing the bass parts, just as he once had.
Conducting was Murry Sidlin, the American creator of the Defiant Requiem Foundation which seeks to preserve the legacy of Terezin - its "artistic defiance" as he calls it - through education and stagings of Verdi's mass across the globe.
This is the room where the ashes of cremated Nazi victims were kept before burial at the Terezin concentration camp, Czech Republic.×
This cemetery is at the Terezin concentration camp in the Czech Republic.×
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.