and Amahl and the Night Visitors
story of Brundibar, a children’s opera written for
children’s voices, is simple. A poor girl and boy sing in
the town square for money to buy milk for their sick mother.
They are forced out of the square by the organ grinder Brundibar,
but with the help of the town’s schoolchildren and some
magical animals—the Cat, the Dog, and the Sparrow—the children
drive the evil Brundibar away. The opera was performed 55
times by Jewish children in Terezin, a concentration camp
in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, where the opera’s composer
and many of Europe’s most talented musicians, writers, and
artists were interred. Unknown to the Nazis, Brundibar represented
Hitler. As the children sang their victory song over the
evil organ grinder, they sang of their hope for the overthrow
of the Nazi regime.
Of more than 15,000 children who passed through Terezin
between 1942 and 1944, only 132 survived to see the end
of World War II. One of those children, Ela Stein, was 11
years old when she was sent to Terezin. In 1943, Ela was
cast as the Cat in the Terezin production of Brundibar
(pictured); she played the role in all 55 shows. Now
married and nearly 80 years old, Ela Weissberger lives in
Tappan, N.Y. She has co-authored a book, The Cat with
the Yellow Star, and traveled around the world speaking
about her experiences as a Jewish child in Nazi Europe.
She has seen, to her joy, Brundibar performed in
many languages, in many countries, by children who are free.
This weekend, Weissberger will see Brundibar performed
in Schenectady, at Proctors GE Theater. In a recent phone
interview, she shared a glimpse of her hard-earned insight,
her unfalteringly hopeful spirit, and her belief that these
stories must be told.
is so important to let people know that we had to fight
evil,” she says, with quiet ferocity. “Even now, I think
it’s so important for the children to know that, somewhere
in the world, children are suffering, and that people are
letting it happen. It still exists, and we still have to
fight it.” It’s important, says Weissberger, that free children
hear the stories of intolerance, so they will want to fight
Children, she emphasizes, are still innocent, still open.
She wants the children who see and perform in the opera
to know how much it meant to the people of Terezin. “It
was a moment when we forgot where we were,” she says. “While
we performed we didn’t have to wear the Jewish star. It
was a few moments of freedom, not to be marked. Not to be
punished. And we gave to the people happiness. Hope. The
little things meant so much for us. The little things.”
sang without costumes,” she adds. “Myself, I had my mother’s
black ski pants and my sister’s black sweater, and a little
bit of shoe polish for makeup. Now, we thought, now we are
actors.” Through Weissberger’s thick Czech accent, her laugh
rings with the pure bell of a child’s.
During the 55 productions at Terezin, Weissberger saw many
of her friends leave for “the East.” She wanted to go, not
knowing that being sent east meant being sent to death at
Auschwitz-Birkenau. The boy who played Brundibar, Weissberger
recalls, always wanted to be an actor. “He was so talented,
so funny. He was the opposite of Brundibar. But Dr. Mengele
decided he was too small by an inch or so, so he sent him
away to the gas chambers. So many good-hearted kids, their
talents, their laughter, are gone.”
It is for those children, for the friends she lost, that
Weissberger continues to tell her stories. “I feel now that
I speak in their voices,” she says, “because they cannot
speak for themselves. I have them in my heart till I die,
because no one remembers them better than I.”
The story she tells of the children’s opera in Terezin is
a story of loss, of cruelty and oppression, but it is also
a story of survival, and hope. It is the story of the human
spirit, standing proudly in snow pants, singing a victory
song in the face of inhuman brutality—and winning.
Weissberger will speak about Brundibar and her experiences
at Terezin prior to the opening performance tonight (Thursday,
Dec. 20) from 6:45 to 7:15 PM. Brundibar will be
performed along with the one-act family opera Amahl and
the Night Visitors, which quickly become an enduring
holiday classic after its NBC-TV premiere in 1951. The two
family operas will be performed at the GE Theater at Proctors
(432 State St., Schenectady) Thursday through Saturday (Dec.
20-22) at 7:30 PM, and on Sunday (Dec. 23) at 2 PM. Tickets
are $25, and can be purchased by calling the box office
the former lead singer of Boston punks Dropkick Murphys
and the former drummer of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Street
Dogs have a New England punk and hardcore pedigree like
no other band. Street Dogs would not even exist if Mike
McColgan hadn’t quit Dropkick Murphys to pursue his dream
of becoming a firefighter in Boston. McColgan was drawn
back to music and formed his new band in 2002; despite a
few disruptions and lineup changes while McColgan juggles
his two careers, Street Dogs are still together.
In his music, McColgan describes gritty working-class life
in Boston, along with favorite topics like drinking problems,
girl problems and job problems. If anything, Street Dogs
are very, very real. Oi!
Street Dogs will perform Saturday (Dec. 22) at 7:30 PM at
Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany). Tickets are
$5. For more information, call 432-6572.