I had the chance to go to Terezin not long ago. Terezin was the “waiting room” from where Jews were transferred further on to other concentration camps. 15 000 Jew children were concentrated there. A very small number survived.
What I find miraculous though is the way the children faced this horrible human created situation. At Terezin, and that is the special thing about this camp, people were allowed to sing, meet and set up plays, discuss on most various themes. The people held there were Jews, intellectuals who created the cultural life of Prague, Czechoslovakia at that time. They were imposed to work but also allowed to share and cultivate their cultural interests.
This is quite exceptional I think, that people like us, forced and treated like animals by people like us, had the power to dedicate themselves to singing, composing, drawing and playing while under this level of oppression.
I find a child’s mind also exceptional. Children are OK under difficult or good circumstances. They will invent a game and carry on with their lives. They don’t worry about cellulite, no job, no money, what to do with the money, buy a new care or some new jewelry, what to say to this person, what to say to this one. Children are simply present and act from that presence with sincerity.
What did the children of Terezin (where allowed to) do while waiting for their lives to be decided upon? With the help of the composer, Hans Krasa who was also sent to Teresin, they staged Brundibar, a children’s opera. František Zelenka, formerly the stage manager at the Czech National Theatre, designed the stage.
Brundibàr is about a brother and a sister going to search for milk for their mother who was ill. Since they did not have any money, they start performing on the street. A bad man, Brundibàr is chasing them away. With the help of a sparrow, a cat, a dog and other children, the brothers succeed to get the milk for their mother.
The opera was later performed also during the Red Cross visit. Only during this visit the children were given snacks, shops full of food appeared out of nowhere. After the visit the cast and the jolly setup were removed. Reality kicked in. The Red Cross was fooled.
I remember one moment in my childhood. As you might have understood by now, we had the minimum of conditions that would be considered normal. The house where me and my sister grow up was also the house of mice. My mother hated them and until now she fears this little creatures. There were numerous nights when she would bang with a stick into the wall, next to the bed. The mice were having dinner.
I could hear the mice making fun of us, laughing sarcastically in their micey way, not stopping from chewing the wallpaper which, at that times, was glued to the wall by using flour and water as glue.
They were everywhere, behind the wall, under the floor, in the corners, in the huge cabinet occupying most of the space in the little kitchen.
Hearing my mother hitting the wall was like an orchestra bursting loud in the middle of the night. But it was also part of our life. I did not question it. It was so.
One time I saw a rat walking on the margin of our toys’ box. The toys’ box was under the table. He was walking on the tiny margin with the agility of a tightrope walker. He was also chewing something.
The childy me did not do anything. Just watched attentively, observed and accepted. Did I say anything afterwards? Did I refuse to play with my shabby toys? No. I did not because I thought that was normal. Because, even at that time, I was very concerned with my parents’ situation and I tried to do as little trouble as possible. That was my reality and I accepted it.
Looking back now I ask myself what would my reaction be? Now, after having the understanding that seeing rats walking around the house is not particularly a normal situation and that it might be dangerous if they decide to have a crazy party, would I react differently?
I am not sure.
I believe I would let him do his thing but after that I would search for the hole and put a trap or some rat poison near it. That is, I would act in a mature, not particularly rat friendly, way. For the moment this is what I know to do when facing a rat in the house.
Walking around Terezin, absorbing the sadness of that place, the routh truth about us humans and what we are capable of when out of our minds, I ask myself, what would I have done?
What if I would have been one of those children or adults? Would I have had the power, and the desire ,to carry on playing, singing, composing? Or would I try to kill myself? Would I try to escape in any other way? Would I close my heart or would I take my share of suffering and carry it on my own shoulders, in my own heart ? Would I be gentle or acid like a bitch defending it’s little puppies?
What do I choose to do in my daily life, as it is now? Do I choose to go on, accepting what is and trying to make it better or do I despise it? Do I learn from my memories or do I keep playing the same old song wondering why nothing changes? Do I let the child in me be happy and play or do I try to act as adults do and walk over my own peace looking for something wrong? Wanting for something to go wrong so that I could have an excuse for being an angry adult.
So, these are the questions I am pondering over while playing in my mind the images from Terezin.
I want to live like a Terezin child. Expecting nothing while playing in the dark.
Brundibàr, who are you, Brundibàr, now?! Come out into the light! Let us talk about it, will you?!