Bialystok Opera Honors Ghetto Uprising With Bernstein’s 'Kaddish’

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BIALYSTOK, Poland - A Polish opera has performed Leonard Bernstein’s “Kaddish“ to mark the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Bialystok Ghetto, an event that sparked the second largest ghetto uprising in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The Podlaska Opera and Philharmonic accompanied the text by Bialystok-born Holocaust survivor Samuel Pisar, which was delivered Friday night by Polish actor Roman Gancarczyk.

The 1963 Bernstein symphony is a powerful accusation against God, who is portrayed as indifferent to human suffering in the Holocaust and other human calamities. It includes the travails of Pisar, who laments the murder of his parents and all his schoolmates. Nearly one-third of Bialystok’s residents before World War II were Jews.

Under the leadership of Mordechaj Tenenbaum and Daniel Moskowicz, Jewish fighters fought the Nazis in a hopeless battle over a few days. Most of the ghetto residents were taken to Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz and Theresienstadt; only a few hundred Jews from Bialystok survived the war.

The performance Friday was also attended by Jacob Kagan, the head of the Israeli society of former Bialystok residents. Kagan, whose father was shot when he was a child, was honored Friday night by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski for a lifetime of promoting Polish-Jewish relations.

"I must say that the city of Bialystok did a fine job in promoting the legacy of the Holocaust and commemorating the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Jews here who were slain in the Holocaust,” Kagan told Haaretz. “For me personally this means a great deal."

Hosted as part of commemorative events that included a performance of Hasidic jazz and an exhibition created by the Warsaw-based Jewish Historical Institute, the symphony was also attended by Archbishop Edward Ozorowski of Bialystok.

Narrator Roman Gancarczyk and singer Anna Lubanska performing "Kaddish."Credit: Michal Heller

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