Although the next installment of this series on the life of Edgar Krasa was intended to focus on the death march that he barely survived, I think Edgar would agree that this next segment of his personal testimony would pause, with reverence, to reflect upon the impact of his roommate on all those who were part of his transcendent act of resistance at Terezin: Rafael Schächter. Edgar writes and speaks to keep the story of the Requiem and Schächter’s legacy alive as much as he does to share his own story.
But tragically, the rest of Rafael Schächter’s story is quite brief.
Felix Kolmer is a survivor who last saw Schächter at Auschwitz as the two were separated on arrival into two lines by Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” an SS officer and doctor who conducted horrific medical experiments on inmates. This, from an article about Schächter in the Huffington Post:
“Schachter was herded into the line of those condemned to immediate death, and perished in 1945 at the age of 39, one month before the liberation of his country. The 91-year-old Kolmer, who still teaches physics and works on behalf of camp survivors, escaped death at Terezin and two other camps. But some 50 members of his extended family did not.”
“‘What Rafi – that was his nickname – did, strengthened us,’ Kolmer said. ‘The cultural life to which he belonged gave us the power to better resist our own fates, not just in Terezin but later in Auschwitz so we didn’t go to the gas chambers like sheep to the slaughter.'” [Denis D. Gray, “Rafael Schachter, Jew Who Led Verdi’s Requiem Mass in Terezin Concentration Camp, Honored Decades Later In Prague,” AP, Huffington Post]
Though his life was cut tragically short, the spiritual and emotional impact of Rafael Schächter’s role as a gifted and noble resistor of darkest evil remains immeasurable; the message of his grave defiance in the face of his Nazi oppressors, precious, eternal. One need only be exposed to the testimonies of those who spent time in the circle of light he created within that darkness to understand the power of his influence upon the lives of those who lived each day trembling in the cold shadow of death.
Writes Terezin survivor Vera Schiff, author of two books on the Holocaust, including “Thereseinstadt: The Town the Nazis Gave to the Jews”:
“Rafael Schächter, who brought about the Requiem, showed people that you can say to your oppressors in different ways what you think of them absent of having firearms or armed rebellion. This wasn’t in our capabilities – but there was still a way to show that we can preserve human dignity. Perhaps the Germans did or did not get the message – but it did help the inmates…It is very important that people should know that in the darkest places there can still be a flicker of hope if people adhere to the qualities of human dignity.” [Survivor Testimonies, Rafael Shachter Institute of Arts & Humanities]
Marianka Zadikow May, Terezin Requiem Chorus Member, says this of her experience:
I wish I could walk up to Rafael Schächter, shake his hand, hug him and thank him for the tremendous act of resistance that he was able to orchestrate, for the strength of spirit he was able to spark in other innocent inmates of that forsaken concentration camp, under what was arguably one of the darkest set of circumstances in human history. Perhaps one day, I will. For now I’m grateful that I was able to shake the hand of Edgar Krasa after his talk to us in Brookline, Massachusetts… a man who has inspired me to tell this story as a way of honoring both these men who, under impossible circumstances, used the beauty of great music to shake their clenched collective fist in the face of those assembled Nazi thugs at Theresienstadt.
We all share in the responsibility to keep such history alive.
Edgar Krasa, this is for you. My small way of saying ‘thank you’ for taking the time that day in Brookline to offer us the privilege of passing your story on to the next generation, to my students, and to my sons, Joshua and Aaron. I promise I’ll never forget your story. Or you.