"A Concert Where Everything is Blue" held at Yad Vashem 75 years after it was performed in secret in the Kovno ghetto. Aranen Productions: Evyatar Nissan
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30 July 2018
On 24 July 1943, a secret Zionistic-spirited concert was held in the Kovno ghetto, marking the anniversaries of the deaths of the leader of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and the celebrated Hebrew/Yiddish poet, Chaim Nahman Bialik. Seventy-five years later almost to the day, this concert was revived in its entirety at Yad Vashem on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.
Kovno ghetto leaders wished to promote traditional cultural life, and in 1942 the Kovno ghetto orchestra was established. In order to protect these talented musicians from deportation and forced labor, they were formally inducted as police officers. In March 1944, during the infamous Children's Aktion, many of the ghetto police were rounded up and deported to their deaths in Auschwitz. However, the members of the orchestra remained behind.
While conducting his doctoral research on the Kovno ghetto, Israeli scholar Rami Neuderfer spent a year-and-a-half perusing through some 40,000 documents hidden in the Kovno ghetto by three members of the orchestra in March 1944. Among these documents, Neuderfer discovered a detailed program of the performance, entitled "A Concert Where Everything is Blue (Tchelet)," and the songs it featured. Some of the most talented Jewish musicians in Lithuania played in the concert program, which included songs depicting longings for the Land of Israel as well as traditional Jewish melodies.
The concert program brought together the various educational and cultural groups that operated in the ghetto at the time, and presented content that supported Zionism and solidarity. Among the songs played were "Shir Ha'emek" (Song of the Valley), "Shir Hanamal" (Song of the Port), "Shir Ma'apilei Betar" (The Betar Movement Song), and "Nomi Nomi," a children's lullaby. Popular Eastern European Jewish music was also played, as well as a string of tunes perceived as Yemenite melodies. The concert concluded with the singing, in Yiddish, of "Hatikvah" (The Hope), the anthem of the future State of Israel.
Under the direction of Neuderfer, and in cooperation with Israel's Ministry for Social Equality, the authentic revival of the secret concert took place at Yad Vashem's Jewish Fighters and Partisans Monument. The concert was performed by the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra alongside the Ankor Choir – made up of teenage girls studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance – and featured several popular Israeli singers, including Karolina, Yonatan Razel and Ofir Ben Shitrit. In between the songs, the story of the secret concert was retold through testimonies, photographs, artifacts and videos from the Yad Vashem Collections.
At the concert, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev recalled "the enormous strength of human spirit of the people who cleaved to and believed in the Zionist endeavor and wished to express it in every manner possible, under the harshest of circumstances… Today we show our appreciation for that strength of spirit, of the ideas developed by the Zionist movement in the hills of Kovno and elsewhere, which, in the wake of WWII and the Shoah proved to be the only way to ensure the continuation of the Jewish people: that is, the State of Israel, which came into existence 70 years ago. We will do our best to guard this most valuable of pledges, charged to us all."