The Jewish Nomad: What did the Holocaust sound like? Let’s listen together

Nate Ben-Horin and Jaclyn Grossman from ‘The Shoah Songbook Part Two: Kovno/Viln’. (The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company)

In honour of International Holocaust Remembrance Day—established by the United Nations in 2005 to mark the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945— ​​I had a virtual sit-down with the founders of the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company.

And we talked about their new show, The Shoah Songbook Part Two: Kovno/Vilna.

But first, a bit about the Harold Green…

Fun fact! David Eisner and Avery Saltzman, the co-artistic directors, were friends from junior high through high school in Toronto—where they are still based. 

Having worked as professional actors for many years, they launched the company in 2006 after noticing the absence of a local troupe dedicated to telling Jewish stories. 

The Green family got aboard to commemorate their late father who loved the arts. And the rest is history. 

Their vision is to illuminate humanity through a Jewish perspective, using live theatre, which they describe as “the meeting place of all the arts.”

Sounds great to me.

Now, back to the show…

The Likht Ensemble is billed as “a collective of emerging artists whose goal is to uncover and disseminate music by Jewish composers from the Holocaust.” Ooh, what a pairing!

The Shoah Songbook uncovers lesser known music written during those years. Part One, which premiered in April 2021, featured songs from the Bohemian camp, Terezin:

Part Two focuses on music created in the Kovno and Vilna ghettos in Lithuania.

This music was written as a form of salvation. “Musically, you get a unique sense of connection to what went on, through these composers,” said Eisner, whose father was a survivor.

As a Holocaust piece, it highlights the need that those in the camps had for art. Music was their escape. And they likely had no expectation of an audience ever hearing their work.

“It’s very stark in its writing, at times, and just reflected the urgency and what was going on,” says Saltzman.

When I asked them how they relate to Holocaust Remembrance Day, as a company, Eisner says they often focus on themes of resilience and overcoming against all odds.

“We try to tell the story from as many different angles and ways, whether it’s a Holocaust story or Jewish theatre in general.”

The songs are sung in their original languages, but with subtitles. 

If all goes well, they will be back to in-person programming this spring: The Great Divide by Alix Sobler and Vitaly: An Evening of Wonders.

Watch the entire video presentation from Jan. 27, 2022:


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KlezCanada also presented a concert for International Holocaust Remembrance Day called Silent Tears: The Last Yiddish Tango.

University of Toronto professor Paula David helped female survivors at Baycrest Centre for Geriatic Care to recover from their trauma of sexual violence, through writing poetry.

These stories were the source of inspiration for an amalgamation of new Yiddish songs featured in the concert. 

Composed by Rebekah Wolkstein, performers include Aviva Chernick, Lenka Lichtenberg, Olga Mieleszczuk and Payadora Tango.

Silent Tears is now available to watch on Facebook. Here’s a preview:

What’s next on Bonjour Chai

On our latest episode of The CJN’s weekly current affairs show, David Sklar and I interview Holocaust survivor Max Eisen.

The author of the 2017 memoir By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz is incredibly eloquent and well-spoken. At age 92, he continues to speak about his experiences with students, teachers and law enforcement.

It’s really mind blowing that someone could live through such trauma and then spend the rest of his life repeating his story. I was very moved by what I heard—and expect you will be too. 

A bit about my own relationship to the Shoah…

I’m fortunate that my own grandparents and great-grandparents settled in Canada before the Second World War.

Growing up, I felt pretty desensitizied to the horrors of the Holocaust. We visited museums in elementary school so often that it just felt like relics of ancient history. Maybe our Jewish past is so full of tragedy and oppression that it kind of got lumped into that.

It was around my late teens that the reality of what happened (and how recently it was!) started to sink in.

I was in the middle of theatre school training, and  learning a lot about empathy, when I visited Yad Vashem, on an Israel trip during winter break. Reading poetry written by a girl who had died in the camps, it sunk in for me that she is a real person.

My experience of the museum, and of the tragedy in general, suddenly changed drastically.

The recent rise in antisemitism this year has led to me thinking even more about the Holocaust. When the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broke out, I literally was thinking of who among my non-Jewish friends would hide me.

Maybe that’s an intense sentiment, but the more I learn about history, the more I wonder if it could happen here. 

On this International Holocaust Memorial Day, let’s make a promise to continue educating others on how these things come to be—so that we can emphatically say, “Never Again.”

(Check out the conversation with Max Eisen on the Bonjour Chai episode that begins with our debate about the value of mandatory Holocaust education.)

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings—at—gmail.com and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai