Holocaust opera's rare performance

A rare performance of an opera written in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Terezin, Czechoslovakia during World War II takes place at the University of Hertfordshire on Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th. The Emperor of Atlantis was composed by the Czech composer Viktor Ullman, and is based on the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. Ullman was sent to Theresienstadt from his home in Prague in the autumn of 1942. He was later moved to Auschwitz where his fellow prisoners included the musicians Karel Ancerl, Rafael Schachter, Gideon Klein, and Hans Krasa.

While in Theresienstadt Viktor Ullman wrote: 'For me Theresienstadt has been, and remains, an education in form. Previously, when one did not feel the weight and pressure of material life, because modern conveniences - those wonders of civilization - had dispelled them, it was easy to create beautiful forms. Here where matter has to be overcome through form even in daily life, where everything of an artistic nature is the very antithesis of one's environment - here, true mastery lies in seeing, with Schiller, that the secret of the art-work lies in the eradication of matter through form: which is presumably, indeed, the mission of man altogether, not only of aesthetic man but also of ethical man.

I have written a fairly large amount of music in Theresienstadt, mainly to satisfy the needs and wishes of conductors, producers, pianists and singers and thus to make provision for the permitted leisure activities within the ghetto. To make a list of this music seems to me as idle as it does to emphasize, for instance, that in Theresienstadt it was impossible to play the piano since there were no instruments. The severe shortage of manuscript paper will surely also be of no interest to future generations. All that I would stress is that Theresienstadt has helped, not hindered, me in my musical work, that we certainly did not sit down by the waters of Babylon and weep, and that our desire for culture was matched by our desire for life; and I am convinced that all those who have striven, in life and in art, to wrest form from resistant matter will bear me out.' Viktor Ullmann, 26 Kritiken über musikalische Veranstaltungen in Theresienstadt.

+ Viktor Ullman died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz between October 14th and 18th, 1944 +

The Emperor of Atlantis was first performed in 1975, and is recognised for its contribution to the understanding of the Nazi atrocities.

* The one-off student performance will be staged at the Weston Auditorium at the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK on 27th January 2006 preceded by a talk by Holocaust survivor Stephen Frank about his experiences of Theresienstadt.
* Internet resources available at
Viktor Ullman Foundation
* Thanks to
SomethingJewish for the lead on this story.
* Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
* Image credits - Auschwitz from
Libertarian.nl. Viktor Ullman from Viktor Ullman Foundation
* Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. If bandwidth is a problem with your permission I will host your image.
For a related story take An Overgrown Path to Childhood luggage


Pliable said…
It was quite unplanned, but today turned into a delightfully Czech day.

After writing this article we went to see Czech director Jan Sverak's Oscar winning film Kolya set in Prague during the decline of communism in the Eighties. Wonderful film, and wonderful to see an almost full house for the screening at Halesworth's innovative Cut Community Arts Centre.
Paul said…
Interesting post! My wife and I visited Terezin in January 1998 while spending a week in Prague on a combined business/pleasure trip. There was information in the local museum about the children's opera "Brundibar," which was performed during the war for Red Cross visitors, but I don't ever recall earing about this composition.
Anonymous said…
A wonderful recording of this wonderful opera was released by Decca, in their Entartete Musik series in 1994, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Lothar Zagrosek conducting and superb singers (Walter berry, Michael Kraus among others). Worth trying to get and listen!
Pliable said…
More information from www.hertsdirect.org ...

The Emperor of Atlantis - Special event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Fri, 27 Jan 2006
Event: The Emperor of Atlantis - Special event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Venue: University of Hertfordshire, Weston Auditorium, de Havilland Campus, Hatfield, Herts.
Date: Friday 27th January

Time: 2.00pm

Presented by Upfront Opera in association with Hertfordshire Music Service and the Holocaust Education Trust.

Hertfordshire schools and residents are being offered a rare chance to quiz a Holocaust survivor, some of whose life experiences under the Nazis will be played out in fromt of them in an opera.

This one-off meeting with Steven Frank will take place before the performance of Ullman's famous opera "The Emperor of Atlantis". The opera, written in gruesome circumstances and smuggled out of Theresienstadt concentration camp, will recieve its Hertfordshire premiere with the critically acclaimed Upfront Opera company.

Amazingly this short opera was written at the very same concentration camp where Mr Frank lived during the Second World War. Mr Frank will take part in a special question and answer session before the performance to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Using unseen footage, he will show Hertfordshire students exactly what the concentration camp was like, first hand.

You are invited to attend this special event free of charge. For ticket reservations please contact the Hertfordshire Music Service.

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