In the summer of 1999, violinist and composer, Ruth Fazal was given a book entitled I never saw another Butterfly - poetry and art of children from the ghetto of Terezin during the years 1941-44.
Ruth responded to what she calls “A Divine Commission” to take some of the poetry of these children and weave them together with the Hebrew Scriptures to attempt to portray the heart of God in the midst of this awful suffering. The result is Oratorio Terezin, a large scale classical work for symphony orchestra, two choirs (children and adult) and three vocal soloists.
The work was premiered in Toronto in November 2003 and has since been performed in Europe, March 2004, Israel, May 2005, and at Carnegie Hall in New York City in February 2007.
In 1941, the small town of Terezin, northwest of Prague in Czechoslovakia, was converted by the Nazis into a transit concentration camp for Jews. To the outside world Terezin (known also by the German name of Theresienstadt) was a “model Jewish settlement” - a spa resort with stores, a café, bank, kindergarten, school, and flower gardens which were built only for propaganda purposes. In reality, Terezin was an overcrowded way station for the death camps. The transports came regularly to take both adults and children away to what was for most of them death in Auschwitz or other camps. Many died in Terezin itself as overcrowding bred untold misery and disease.
Among those who were kept as prisoners in this town were many musicians, writers, poets and artists. Yet even the horror of their situation could not totally silence their creativity which they and their children used to transcend the pain. From 1941 to 1944 over 15,000 children were numbered amongst thousands of Jews who were held captive in Terezin. While regular schooling was prohibited, classes were held clandestinely, and the children were encouraged to paint and write.
Of the 15,000 children who passed through Terezin, only about 100 survived.