Marianka (Marianne) Zadikow May was born in Prague in 1923 and spent the years 1944-1945 at transit camp Theresienstadt, a 50 year old fortress at Terezín, Czechoslovakia. The creative Jewish talent of Prague were forced to live in this ghetto, but their creative spirit continued and gave them purpose and hope. Marianne May was a member of the Terezín concentration camp’s chorus.
Rafael Schächter, was a brilliant young Czech opera-choral conductor who was sent to Terezín in 1941. Under the most brutal of circumstances, he sustained dignity, humanity, and hope with his fellow prisoners. With an abandoned piano he found in the basement, he recruited and taught 150 prisoners Guiseppe Verdi’s Requiem by rote, after grueling days of forced labor. Edgar Krasa, another chorus member spoke about his experience, “After work we went to a basement where we were encouraged to sing Czech songs we all knew, this was spiritually uplifting. For the 60 to 90 minutes we sang, we didn’t think about our new lifestyle. And the next day at work, we hummed the tunes and looked forward to singing in the evening again. … The chorus was a terrific benefit to us.”(1)
Although the chorus performed many different pieces of music, Schächter is best known for his selection of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem. They performed it 16 times, the last for a visiting delegation of the International Red Cross and senior Nazi officials. The Nazis goal was to show the world that they were treating the Jews well. Terezín was to be perceived as a model city for the Jews and they produced a film but when they realized that the prisoners in it looked unhealthy and unhappy and it thus did not achieve the goal, the Nazis tried to destroy the film.
Marianka May said of the chorus, “God sent us the Verdi—God sent us the music—God sent us Rafael Schächter— and the lectures—God sent us the way to live. When questioned if God was there, her response was, “Of course God was there. The question was: Where was man? Man was empowered by God to do good—compassion, love—where was man?
1. The Final Show At Terezín (New York Jewish Week — Sep 29, 2010)
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