Resilience Reimagined 6: Wiegele (Ilse Weber)

St Bartholomew's Hospital London c1890, courtesy of the Wellcome Collection

The violinist, Daniel Hope, was a protégé of Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who was a protégé of the violinist Louis Persinger (1887-1966), who was a protégé of the violinist Hans Becker (1860-1917) and on that line of connection extends through history, one generation encouraging the next.Hope Menhuhin CD cover. Deutsche Grammaphon

Of the many things Daniel Hope says he learned from Mehuhin, one was resilience. In the 1970s, Hope’s parents escaped apartheid-South Africa where they had been under surveillance because of their support of black creative artists. Safely in London, they quickly ran out of money. Hope’s mother took a job as Menuhin’s secretary. As Daniel Hope says in My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin, “For the next years, I grew up in Mehuhin’s hoause in Highgate, London, where my mother would take me every day to play, while she worked.”

Fast forward. In 2007, Daniel Hope’s career as a soloist is in full flight, and he is invited to collaborate with the Swedish soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter, on her Terezín/Theresienstadt project, an exploration of music written and performed in the camp that the Nazis were trying to portray as a propaganda showcase. Just north of Prague, Theresienstadt was the “Jewish Settlement” where imprisoned Jewish creative artists where were granted “permission” to continue creating art, not for the concert stage but for the camp’s other residents before they were transported to their demise.Terez von Utter Cover : Hope Menhuhin CD

Ilse Weber, born in 1907, was one of those musicians. She was poet who wrote books for children, radio dramas, and simple, memorable songs. As the Germans occupied Bohemia and Moravia (today’s Czechoslovakia), she scrambled to get her elder son, Hanus, on a Kindertransport to London, and he survived. But then, in 1942, she was rounded up with her husband and her younger son, Tommy, and transported to Terezín.

There, she was assigned to work in the children’s infirmary as nurse, though untrained. She also wrote them songs, often lullabies, performing them on the guitar that she managed to smuggle into the camp. “In their simplicity and heartfelt inwardness, they are among the most moving works written in Theresienstadt,” writes the musicologist Ulrike Migdal in her essay in von Otter’s CD booklet.

In October 1944, rather than abandon the sick children she had been caring for, Ilse Weber chose to escort them on what would be the final journey for each of them. A train to Auschwitz.

This is Anne Sofie von Otter singing Weber’s lullaby Wiegala, where “the moon is lantern…how silent is the world….”

Amid the sorrow is a timeless image of a nurse. One we have seen daily in the coverage of Covid-19. Never giving up. Never letter go. Until some, like Ilse Weber, succumb to the unimaginable.


NEXT:  To end this series: Resilience in fourteen words.

Ottawa-based author and editor, Kevin Burns is a frequent contributor to igNation. His latest book, Impressively Free – Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood and co-authored with Michael W. Higgins, has just been released by Paulist Press in the United States and by Novalis in Canada.

  • Bill Robins
    Posted at 07:52h, 23 September Reply

    Great series. I listen to Falvetti often! I could not open today’s video. Do others have a problem? Bill Robins

  • John Montague
    Posted at 08:44h, 23 September Reply

    When I visited Auschwitz There were many sights that I have found unforgettable. Among them are the barracks that hundreds were kept in who were working for a few months before being gassed, the underground chambers which delivered the deathly showers, the ovens where bodies were burned, the camp commandments large stately house where he lived with wife and children, and the paschal candle in the cell which imprisoned St. Maximillian Kolbe who volunteered to take the place of another prisoner who was going to be shot.

  • suzanne renaud
    Posted at 09:50h, 23 September Reply

    Thank you for sharing this moving piece of music and it’s history.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 12:39h, 23 September Reply

    Thank you Kevin!

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