Impresario for the Lost Voices of Theresienstadt

In Czech, "Z" denotes Jewish.

In Czech, the "Z" denotes "Jew."

By Mandy Katz

Perhaps an apt follow-up to my post Monday about a journey from the Holocaust to the Ivy League? Yesterday’s Washington Post carries an inspiring obituary for 82-year-old violinist Joza Karas, one of the Christian righteous. If not already officially recognized at Yad Vashem, he should be, for dedicating much of his life to preserving the music of Theresienstadt.

Many musicians and composers were among the 140,000 Jews interned at the the Nazi camp in Czech territory, where prisoners defied the machinery of death by forming orchestras and choirs, and staging plays and concerts and art exhibitions. Most of them eventually died, though: 33,000 on site, from starvation and illness, and another 90,000 after being deported to Auschwitz and elsewhere.

Karas was born in Warsaw, the son of a Czech official who fought with the resistance only to be executed under Soviet rule. After fleeing to the United States, Joza made a career as a teacher and performer in Connecticut. In the 1970s, he began seeking out the trove of music written by Jews trapped in the Nazis’ notorious “model” camp. His finds included the Hans Krasa children’s opera, Brundibar, a story of innocents triumphing over evil, of which Karas conducted the American premiere.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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