Soon there will be no more survivors. Soon there will be no witnesses left, either. As artist Edmund de Waal wrote, millions were “erased from the texture of life” by the Holocaust. Soon all that will remain is the historical record and our determination to preserve and protect it.
There is already a rather vast library of work composed during the Holocaust, but For You the Sun Will Shine is something quite new, different and essential. Charlette Shulamit Ottolenghi was born and raised in Milan and now lives in Jerusalem. She has been performing these songs written by female prisoners for some ten years now, originally brought to light by the research of Francesco Lo Toro, founder and director of the Musica Judaica Institute in Barletta. It has been suggested that both before and during incarceration, women coped differently than their male counterparts, steeling themselves by sharing imaginary meal preparation and recipes and doing household chores. “(The) men don’t go out… She stands on the long line (for bread)… When there is need to go to the Gestapo, the daughter or wife goes… The women are everywhere… (Women) who never thought of working are now performing the most difficult physical work.” Evidently there were also many who had enough energy to pursue their artistic interests, as well.
Ilse Weber´s songs were hidden under the dirt of Theresienstadt, dug up by her husband at the end of the war. Ludmilla Pešcařová memorized hers. Another is even gone from the paper record, anonymous forever. Czechs, Germans, Poles, Jews, Gentiles. Nothing can vitiate the obscenity of the Holocaust, but each and every piece of art discovered fulfils the so-called 614th commandment, the moral obligation to negate Hitler´s determination to obliterate Jewish life and creativity. “True respect to these women artists is to treat them as artists,” insists Shulamit, and to sing their songs, not only on Holocaust Memorial Day.
For this recording, Shulamit assembled a tiny ensemble, with the indefatigable Frank London, pianist Shai Bachar and percussionist Yuval Lion. The smallness of it defies the enormity of the subject, while allowing the band to be silly-puttied in arrangement. She sings lullabyes, kaddishes, Brecht-Weillian cabaret, parodies, anthems with a Socialist sway, prayers and death march waltzes, bitter, longing, enraged, despairing. Healing broken music, arrangers London and Bachar are by turns taciturn and elegant, stirring and experimental, trumpeter London especially the vigorous tummler, Bachar constant and nourishing as the rain.
One Holocaust historian cites the words of an anti-Nazi cleric, who quoted Luke 19:40 as his testament – “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” As the number of Holocaust deniers and relativists outnumber its historical victims, witnesses and perpetrators, our existential duty is to listen – otherwise the texture of our life becomes ever more threadbare.