Where there’s Life

Moving account of children during the Holocaust for Warwick Arts Centre.

28th January will see Warwick Arts Centre present Drawing Life, an award-winning dramatised song cycle with film and video, about children in the Terezin concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Commissioned by the Jewish Music Institute, Drawing Life tours nationally across the UK through January 2016, coinciding with the commemorations for Holocaust Memorial Day. Drawing Life is a dramatised song cycle with film and video, based on the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Featuring poems and drawings by Jewish children imprisoned in Terezin, Pook draws inspiration from the children’s creative spirit.

The original commission in 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the disintegration of the Terezin concentration camp in 1944 and the thirtieth year of the Jewish Music Institute. For this National UK Tour, Drawing Life features both an updated score and new song work, and through community engagement a mixed-voice Community Choir will perform in the London performances.

In composing the piece, Jocelyn Pook spoke to Holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlova, after reading her moving book The Tin Ring. Born in Czechoslovakia, Fantlova spent time in Terezin, Auschwitz and BergenBelsen and weighed only 77lbs when she was rescued by a British Army officer in 1945. Her book, The Tin Ring, takes its name from the handmade tin ring she was given by her young lover on the last occasion she saw him.

Terezin was a walled 18th century garrison town in former Czechoslovakia used as a concentration camp for more than 150,000 Jews. Between 1941 and 1944, of the 15,000 children deported there and then to Auschwitz, only 100 survived. The children’s poems and drawings, stuffed into walls or buried outside, are a moving testament to the prisoners’ resilience.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, a Terezin inmate, who was an artist and educator before the war, organised art classes for the child inmates, seeing art as a way for the young to express themselves. Helga Weiss on her father’s advice was encouraged “to draw what you see” and depicted the intimate details of camp life in her drawings.

As Sophie Solomon, Artistic Director of the Jewish Music Institute, explains: “Living conditions in Terezin were appalling. Inmates were crammed together, ravaged by starvation, disease and brutality. But the story of the camp demonstrates the enormous strength of the human spirit even amid the horror of the Holocaust.”

Jocelyn Pook commented: “The Jewish Music Institute approached me to compose a piece inspired by the poems and drawings of Terezin’s children. What shines through in these works, and also in many survivors’ testimonies, is the capacity to find hope, courage and beauty in the direst and bleakest of circumstances. It is about the human ability to find ways to nourish and strengthen the spirit even in the harshest conditions, against all the odds. This piece will, I hope, be reflective without being devoid of light.”

Drawing Light takes place at Warwick Arts Centre on Thursday 28th January. Tickets www.warwickartscentre.co.uk