Whilst cleansing out her just lately deceased mom’s condominium in Prague a couple of years in the past, musician Lenka Lichtenberg came upon hidden in a drawer two notebooks of poems that have been composed via her grandmother at all through the Holocaust at Theresienstadt.
Lichtenberg right away learned those yellowed and getting old notebooks penned in her grandmother’s hand have been helpful ancient artifacts, however she didn’t need the poetry — written whilst being held prisoner via the Nazis — to proceed to put silent in a museum. So she set it loose and set it to tune.
Czech-born Lichtenberg is a classically skilled musician who, sooner than sooner or later settling in Canada, moved round Europe and dipped her feet in a lot of musical genres, together with jazz, rock and, later in lifestyles, Yiddish tunes.
A decade in the past, she finished a prior mission, “Songs for the Respiring Partitions,” is a choice of basically Jewish liturgical items she recorded in 12 Czech synagogues. On the time, she known as it “an important factor I will be able to ever do.”
This week at the Instances Will Inform weekly podcast, Lichtenberg talks about and stocks songs from her new album “Thieves of Desires: Songs of Theresienstadt’s Secret Poetess,” which is in keeping with poems that her grandmother Anna Hana Friesova wrote in inconceivable stipulations all through the Holocaust — sooner than, all through and after her years spent within the focus camp.
Lichtenberg’s eclectic musical background comes thru in her new mission through which 16 of the poems have been became songs, 8 of which Lichtenberg composed and 8 others that have been commissioned from Czech and Canadian composers. The preparations function 19 recording artists from Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany. The album used to be recorded and produced via Lichtenberg at her Melody Meadows barn studio in jap Ontario.
On this rather longer episode this week, we find out about Lichtenberg and her circle of relatives and listen to excerpts from her exceptional album “Thieves of Desires.”
The next is a rather edited transcript of our podcast dialog.
Instances of Israel: Hello, Lenka. Thanks such a lot for becoming a member of me as of late. The place am I discovering you?
Lenka Lichtenberg: Hi, Amanda. I’m in jap Ontario in Canada on a farm that we have got about an hour’s pressure from Toronto. We’re principally in the midst of the sphere surrounded via coyotes and numerous quite a lot of animals, and we simply like it out right here.
It seems like a utopia to me. That’s superb. I’m so jealous.
Yeah, it’s particular.
We’re right here, after all, to speak about your new album, “Thieves of Desires: Songs of Theresienstadt’s Secret Poetess,” and it’s simply shatteringly stunning. I’ve been taking note of it nonstop and it’s in keeping with poetry that your grandmother wrote. Your lifestyles, your musical background, the whole thing is so wealthy. However we’re going first of all the impetus for this actual album.
I discovered two little notebooks in my mother’s table when she kicked the bucket and I didn’t know what to do with the ones as it used to be transparent to me it used to be one thing of a historical report. There’s no longer that a lot poetry that might were written in a focus camp. And so once I noticed that, I spotted it used to be one thing very particular. However except for that reality I used to be so stunned via what used to be in truth in it: Poems that my grandmother wrote. Obviously it used to be in her handwriting and it used to be classified as such.
I used to be no longer positive tips on how to maintain this as it used to be an excessively particular factor. And the selection I had used to be, anyone prompt, neatly, it’s a must to give this to Yad Vashem. Or to a Holocaust training museum or someplace, as it’s a historical record. However I felt that those little treasures have been in reality already silent for such a lot of a long time, and it used to be no longer giving them any justice in any respect to position them in a silent position. And as a musician, I felt that the easiest way for me to honor this used to be thru tune, as a result of that’s what I relate to essentially the most. And it took me some time to come back to that conclusion, however after I made up our minds, it used to be lovely transparent how I might do that.
We can talk about the songs themselves and their phrases somewhat bit later in this system. However let’s again up somewhat bit in relation to the timeline and your tale to present somewhat extra context to this actual mission, which, as you stated, is taking your grandmother’s poetry that she wrote in Theresienstadt. So all our listeners can listen that you’ve got a bit of of an accessory. The place are you from at first?
I believe I’ve numerous an accessory! Thanks. I’m from Czech Republic. When I used to be born, it used to be Czechoslovakia. I spent my early life there. I went to university to review tune, classical tune, opera and so forth, and likewise spent my adolescence as a singer in a musical theater. So I used to be very a lot very deeply concerned with the musical scene, at the same time as a kid there. And when I used to be 18, I left the rustic and sooner or later ended up in Canada as a landed immigrant.
I didn’t know a lot about my Jewish roots as a result of I didn’t in truth even know I used to be Jewish till it used to be about 10 when my mom advised me — as a result of she needed to. I used to be invited to sing at a Jewish group heart. So she had to provide an explanation for to me what this position used to be and what Jewish is. I didn’t know the rest in any respect. So I wasn’t introduced up as a Jew — and also you couldn’t be in a communist nation, no longer very strongly. There used to be a robust level of assimilation, so I didn’t know any of the ones issues.
And best as an grownup, after being a vacationer coming to Israel, I attached very deeply with my Jewish roots and began asking questions of my mom, what in truth took place and what she has been thru; what my grandmother went thru. And till then, all I in point of fact knew used to be that they have been in a focus camp and that they survived and the remainder of their circle of relatives didn’t. After which my mother wrote a e-book about it known as “The Citadel of My Early life.” Via then I used to be already residing in Canada as an grownup and I used to be in point of fact fairly moved via her tales.
So all this got here new to me as an grownup, in point of fact. And so when my mother kicked the bucket, I discovered those booklets of my grandmother’s poetry in her table. All of that used to be even an extra marvel as a result of I had no concept that my grandmother wrote poems or wrote the rest by any means. I knew her very otherwise.
She used to be an excessively light-hearted, chain-smoking, tennis-playing grandmother and really untraditional, will have to I say. She used to be no longer one to bake or the rest like that or knit! No, she used to be an avid reader that I knew and really an expert, however very very mild and giggling always. So I might have by no means attached, rightly or flawed, any intensity of idea to her.
So once I learn those poems, it didn’t in point of fact hook up with the picture I had of my grandmother; all that used to be a deep marvel, and it moved me very deeply. When I began studying the poems, I spotted they’re in truth in point of fact stunning, stunning, transferring poetry that she created. And I had no concept.
For some abnormal reason why, they have been tucked away and not discussed via my mom both. And that, I believe, has one thing to do with their very own courting, which used to be sophisticated. And so my mom, for some reason why, didn’t really feel that she sought after to honor the ones creations of her personal mom. However for me, the location used to be very other. As soon as I discovered it, I knew I needed to do one thing with this.
Now, the truth that you didn’t know that you simply have been Jewish till you have been 10 isn’t the primary time that this has took place to your circle of relatives. Actually, your individual mom didn’t know she used to be Jewish till what age?
Sure. Till I believe 13. Even later. Sure. It’s in point of fact fairly an ironic repetition. Historical past does repeat itself such a lot of instances, and that is for sure a living proof.
My mother used to be introduced up as a Catholic in an effort of many, I believe, Jews in Czech Republic and possibly in any other puts in jap Europe, no less than possibly in Germany, I don’t know, however for sure in Czechoslovakia. The trouble used to be to save lots of… Some households once they noticed what used to be coming within the 30s, they felt that in the event that they assimilate or even tackle Christianity as a religion, that might someway save them from the pograms that have been taking place right here and there. And my grandfather, Richard Fries, he used to be from a space that had skilled systems. And so from what I perceive, he used to be the motivator, basically, at the back of my grandmother and grandfather’s efforts to stay the circle of relatives — even supposing they have been each 100% Jewish — to stay them as a ways from being Jewish as conceivable. And so when my mom used to be born, she used to be in truth baptized and brought to church. So she grew up as a full-fledged Catholic, and so she had no concept about any of her roots by any means and didn’t know what used to be Jewish both, simply as myself.
You’re proper that there’s a fascinating parallel proper there. It in point of fact is fairly astounding. However the way in which I take note my mom, she liked many facets of Christianity, and he or she favored church buildings. She in point of fact did. She liked going there for his or her somber surroundings. She would sit down in an attractive church and simply meditate there. And so, I don’t know, it’s nonetheless attached along with her till her loss of life, that she noticed herself as Christian in some ways.
To be able to her to have misplaced her circle of relatives, all her prolonged circle of relatives, together with her cherished grandparents and her father, to the truth that she used to be Jewish, used to be in point of fact so brutal, because it used to be to everyone, after all. However to her, it simply in point of fact made no sense as a result of she didn’t assume she used to be Jewish.
And in an ironic flip of occasions, she and her mom have been taken on Christmas Day, right kind? To the camp?
Sure. I believe they in truth departed few days sooner than Christmas from their area. After which they have been in, I believe you’ll want to name it a maintaining tank, the place there have been 1000’s of Jewish households from the world in jap Bohemia, and there they waited for the trains. And I do consider that you simply’re proper, on Christmas Day, they have been in truth taken from that maintaining tank via educate to proceed to Terezin.
So we all know that your grandmother had an excessively wealthy non-public lifestyles as we learn in her poetry and within the booklet for your album, which is, once more, it’s known as Thieves of Desires. It’s so fantastically completed. You’ve laid available in the market your grandmother’s handwriting, which is simply pristine and wonderful, and there’s no errors there. The whole lot is apparent and blank.
You’re proper. I didn’t even call to mind that. It’s true, in truth. It’s like writing the Torah. You’ll be able to’t make a mistake.
Wow, that’s stunning. It’s a must to marvel, did she compose the poem so totally in her head and all she had to do used to be to jot down them down when she had an opportunity? I may just simply consider her muttering them to herself, seeking to stay them, to seize them in her reminiscence after which writing them down. And you have got that juxtaposed, after all, with the English translations which you’ve set and different composers have set to tune.
I’d like to speak with you about 4 of the songs that — they’re all stunning, they’re simply beautiful songs — however I’d like to speak about 4 of them in additional intensity, starting with, “Run, Run You Little Human.” Once I heard it, it’s simply haunting in relation to your vocalization and also you stated it in one of those a capella-type means, nevertheless it nearly seems like a sport. Used to be that your purpose?
I believe I used to be impressed right here via a canine chasing its tail roughly concept. While you’re working and also you’re getting nowhere, that’s the level of it, as a result of that’s what it says on the very finish of the poem. It in truth says, principally, the extra you run, the extra you understand that you simply’re simply turning round your individual axis and also you’re getting completely nowhere.
And I believe this tune, I completely love this poetry, it in point of fact is so odd and interesting to me as neatly. It’s, I believe, a metaphor each for the human situation and for his or her definite scenario, being within the focus camp.
The human situation, within the sense that she says you’ll run so far as you need, however you’ll by no means run clear of your self, In order that being one side of it. And the entire issues which can be unhealthy in people, she says, working from your individual betrayals, out of your fears and from that, so that you simply can’t run clear of that.
And the opposite one is literal, the place being, after all, the place they have been in a jail, principally, that you’ll check out all you need, however you’ll’t escape from there both.
So, yeah, I did check out on this one to make it roughly round, you realize, the way it’s working round, as I stated, in regards to the canine and the tail, that roughly factor. And in addition playful in some way. And I assumed that the a cappella remedy of that would supply that concentrate on simply the motion in it.
It for sure comes thru. The following tune we’ll talk about is known as “Wild Beastly Water Got here,” and it starts with a trumpet-bass intro, which sounds roughly like marching. And the phrases of the poem are extremely harsh, however you’re making a song it so sweetly and likewise in a jazzy roughly means, that it’s this horribly stark depiction, nevertheless it’s became roughly a tune of hope via the top.
Sure, that tune has for sure a marvel finishing, however I’ll get started from the start. This wild beastly water is a metaphor, I consider anyway, for a flood that, in reality, approach the Nazi profession that on this case destroys the whole thing in its trail. So it describes how other people’s lives and the whole thing they have been dreaming about, they have been development. It’s very literal, describing the entire issues that have been totally destroyed via this flood.
After which in the second one part of the tune, it roughly involves phrases with it. And I’ve musically additionally modified. I’ve long past from like minor keys to primary keys, roughly the most obvious motion. You’re going from the crisis to the hopeful position.
And so now that is after the flood and there’s simply dust, however within the dust, there’s a little signal of recent enlargement and of recent traits for people. And it places out this, as I stated, unexpected concept that possibly that is all ok if humanity, if our global, is destroyed, as a result of God is not going to in point of fact take that as not anything, simply as somewhat blitz as a result of subsequent time humanity and the human global will most likely be a lot better as it has realized from its errors that have been dedicated prior to now.
So it roughly has this lightness about it announcing, neatly, it’s no giant deal that we get destroyed as a result of we’re going to start out everywhere once more. And in the end, it’s only a just right lesson to have.
This concept of viewpoint and hope. It for sure comes thru in some other tune, “What is that this Position?” which is contemplative. There are many questions right here, questions any person would ask themselves. What do you assume that this actual poem confirmed of your grandmother’s personality?
I believe this tune captures in point of fact fantastically the 2 facets. You’ve the disappointment and the conclusion that their lives are modified without end. And on the similar time, the power not to see the whole thing black, the power to seek out hope even within the bleakest of puts, is there as neatly. And some other stunning side of this tune, or of the poem, is the truth that it’s each very non-public and really normal, or common, will have to we are saying, as it’s about her courting with what I guess along with her husband, my grandfather, as a result of she does say, “The place are we at? What took place to the way in which you used to have a look at me?” And so that is very non-public, and we already know that in truth, sadly, their courting used to be in bother. And so she addresses that.
And on the similar time, she’s speaking usually phrases about how love will principally, to make use of a cliche, triumph over all, and that it’s the final spring of hope that you’ll go searching and in finding and do keep in mind that the solar will nonetheless pop out day after today. So it’s each common and really non-public in regards to the scenario within the camp and in regards to the state of her marriage.
And I believe that’s the stunning artwork of poetry that during only a few phrases, in point of fact, you’ll say such a lot. I will discuss it for 5 mins, however she says it in like 40 phrases in general, almost certainly on the maximum. In order that’s, I believe, the true signal of fine poetry that I will do this.
The following poem that we’ll talk about is, once more, this type of universal-particular scenario. It’s a love poem, however similar to the biblical “Track of Songs” can also be interpreted in such a lot of alternative ways, this poem “Miracles” could also be means open to interpretation. How do you notice it?
I in finding it fascinating that you simply in finding it additionally common. I in truth discovered that one extraordinarily non-public, however who is aware of? We don’t have my grandma to invite the query. However I discovered that it used to be some kind of a reminiscence of a maximum romantic scenario that took place prior to now. That possibly she is reminiscing about one thing that not exists within the camp. There without a doubt used to be no house, I don’t assume, to have a brand new revel in. So she’s describing the magic of nights previous and the whole thing that every individual offers to the opposite. And it’s about love.
However I see it very a lot that there’s a longing, there’s an appreciation for the affection courting, and for the entire good looks that got here with it. However I do see it as non-public and sentimental and possibly somewhat depression in it, even supposing it doesn’t in truth whinge about having misplaced it. It simply roughly lays it out like this used to be the way it used to be. I in finding that poetry in point of fact fairly ordinary to be written in a focus camp, of all puts.
When you have been to learn the similar phrases in a magical roughly means, you’ll want to interpret it as God’s love and the eagerness with God. I individually assume that anybody who reads it is going to take his personal interpretation of the phrases. But it surely’s simply fantastically written and your atmosphere of it’s so, I don’t know, celestial in some way. How did making a decision to create this composition?
I spent fairly a while atmosphere the poems. I didn’t wish to do them too temporarily one by one as a result of every one needed to reside in me for some time. So that they get their very own little house and their very own consideration and musical working out and intensity. So this one, I lived with it for some weeks sooner than the melodies began forming and my musical center and I sought after to make it simply stunning. That, to me, used to be the only and best standards in truth used in this tune. I would like this to be as stunning as I’m able to produce. And since I’m a singer and I assume as a result of I’m a professionally skilled singer and a musician, I perceive tune in relation to its harmonic progressions, but in addition vocally in relation to harmonies. Harmonies, to me, are the whole thing. So this tune expresses itself thru numerous harmonies. And I believe that’s what offers it what you describe as a celestial sound, I believe that includes that as a result of there are a cappella portions this is simply possibly ten voices stacked on most sensible of one another and it offers us that choral feeling.
Now, I stated we’d best mentioned 4 songs, however I advised you sooner than we began recording that there’s some other tune that simply made me cry each time I heard it. And that’s, after all, “I Have My Personal Grief” — becoming titled. It’s, after all, the combo of your mom’s voice with the darbuka, with the making a song, with the whole thing in combination. Let us know somewhat bit about this tune specifically.
That is only a four-line poem, and I learn it and it used to be almost certainly the one who impacted me essentially the most once I learn it, as it used to be in order that solemn, so truthful, so susceptible. Do you thoughts if I in truth say it as it’s simply 4 brief strains. It says, “I’ve my very own grief, however most likely I will lift yours as neatly. And will have to I fall underneath the load of the 2, I will be able to crumple in silence.”
That, to me, is in order that tough as a result of I simply consider her chatting with her husband, my grandmother to my grandfather, the place he already used to be somewhat little bit of a misplaced soul sooner than they went to the focus camp as a result of he used to be taken via the Gestapo in keeping with a betrayal via a colleague. So he spent six months in jail the place he used to be tortured and got here again a damaged guy.
The next months sooner than they have been in truth transported to the focus camp have been fraught with heavy arguments and depression between my grandparents, consistent with my mom, who describes that during her e-book. I believe this used to be an expression of that my grandmother used to be seeking to make her husband really feel someway higher, however he totally misplaced regulate and knew he had misplaced regulate over the destiny of his circle of relatives. He couldn’t do the rest. He noticed what used to be coming.
And in order that used to be his heaviness and his depression and her as a spouse seeking to make him really feel higher or lighter come what may. As a result of, as I stated, she used to be an excessively mild roughly individual. However I believe the ones 4 strains categorical that precisely.
It’s so fascinating since you learn it as a spouse talking to her husband. I learn it as a mom talking to her kid.
Oh, wow. K. You notice, I believe that’s the wonderful thing about in point of fact great or just right high quality poetry is when you’ll have your individual working out of the phrases they usually talk to you. As a result of I do know the historical past for my mother’s e-book between my grandparents. And so I right away understood it as her chatting with her husband as a result of he’s in order that unsatisfied and he or she needs to make him really feel higher. And in order that’s what I noticed. However after all, it will completely be about mom to her kid, the rest like that. Everyone used to be seeking to assist anyone else, I believe, emotionally no less than. In order that makes numerous sense.
So, as I discussed to start with, once I learn the ones 4 strains, I used to be so strongly impacted, I knew this one used to be very particular. However as it’s best 4 strains, what do you do with it? What do you do? How do you create an entire tune until you get started including issues to it that aren’t in point of fact there?
So, due to this fact, I got here up with the theory of together with my mom in it as a result of I sought after to present it much more intensity and extra context. So that is the only tune which in point of fact connects at the private degree the 3 people as generations. It’s my grandmother and her poetry. It’s my mom who, on this case, talks in regards to the departure from their house, the place they have been sooner than the delivery to the focus camp.
And the ones phrases, I used to be very fortunate: I discovered them on a Czech TV documentary that used to be completed. My mom used to be in truth a couple of instances on Czech TV and Czech systems, so she used to be fairly distinguished in some ways. And so she used to be requested to speak about her reports on this documentary that used to be completed against the sixtieth anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. And in order that used to be from 2005. And that documentary, anyone made a recording of it for me and I used to be ready to make use of the phrases that she is announcing there within the tune. In order that definite clip is from that. So it’s her in reality status in entrance in their outdated door and speaking about it, studying from a diary that she wrote when she used to be 14, sooner than they departed.
So there’s the sort of robust backstory there from her diary to her, now an grownup, six years after Auschwitz, to my grandmother after which me taking all this and including my voice and my musical interpretation to this.
That’s why, Amanda, you’re crying while you pay attention to it. And I’m crying as neatly. So this tune, once I heard it on radio, as a result of it’s been picked a couple of instances on radio systems in Canada that I pay attention to and listening to my mom’s voice coming from the radio stations, the radio waves studying her personal phrases from her 1942 diary. It’s in point of fact, really implausible. So I needless to say it could make you cry, and it without a doubt does the similar factor to me as neatly.
Lenka, thanks such a lot for sharing time with us and sharing your tune.
It’s my biggest excitement and honor. Thanks such a lot.
Take a look at this earlier Instances Will Inform episode: