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Yad Vashem's Newly Commissioned Symphony "Vessels of Light", Commemorating the Courageous Holocaust-Era Actions of Righteous Among the Nations Japanese Diplomat Chiune Sugihara, Premieres in Lithuania

14 November 2022

Yad Vashem announces the world premiere of a new musical performance entitled Symphony No. 6 "Vessels of Light" on the stage of the Kaunas State Philharmonic Hall. Yad Vashem commissioned this moving, large-scale symphonic work with music and libretto by internationally-renowned composer Lera Auerbach, and inspired by the heroic actions of Japanese Vice-Consul Chiune Sempo Sugihara, who saved thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

Chiune Sempo Sugihara, who issued visas alongside the Honorary Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk, risked his life and career by issuing visas, in direct defiance of Japanese government policy, to several thousand Jews who sought to flee Europe. The recipients of Sugihara's visas were able to escape the tragic fate of millions of Jews in Europe. On 4 October 1984, Yad Vashem recognized Chiune Sempo Sugihara as Righteous Among the Nations, a title awarded on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people for his selfless and courageous wartime actions.

Inspired by the heroism of Chiune Sugihara and the thousands of Jewish lives saved through his decisions and actions during WWII, Lera Auerbach created the music, libretto, and artistic concept for Symphony No. 6, "Vessels of Light," for Violoncello, Choir, and Orchestra. Auerbach weaves a multilayered tapestry of words and music with Yiddish poetry, the art of Japanese Kintsugi, the mystical Shevirat ha-kelim ("breaking of the vessels"), and the silent words of biblical Psalm 121 in a work she dedicates to Chiune Sugihara and all those who risk everything to save others. 

Symphony No. 6 "Vessels of Light," is a commission by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, and The American Society for Yad Vashem. The commission was catalyzed by the world-premiere performer of the symphony, Japanese-American violoncellist Kristina Reiko Cooper, whose husband's father, Irving Rosen, was rescued thanks to the life-saving visas granted by Chiune Sugihara. On 4 October 1984, Yad Vashem honored Sugihara as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for his actions during that dark chapter of our recent history.

The choice to premiere the Symphony in Kaunas was deliberate, as it is the authentic location where these visas were issued during a short window of time in 1940.

Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan stated:

"Even during the darkest hours of the Holocaust, Jews expressed themselves through the use of art and music. These creations reflected their experiences as well as served as way for their souls to escape the harsh realities of their circumstance. The use of the Yiddish language and poetry in the "Vessels of Light" symphony and libretto directly relates this work to the European Jewish culture of the time before and during the Holocaust and serves as a way for the public to connect with the memory of the Holocaust. The impact and power of the arts cross both cultural, generational and linguistic divisions. Through music and art like the Vessels of Light Symphony we are able to continue to inspire and engage people all over the world in Holocaust remembrance for generations to come."

Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan attended the premiere together with dignitaries and community leaders in Lithuania. Accompanying the musical performance is a special Yad Vashem ready2print exhibition entitled Righteous Among the Nations. The exhibition depicts several stories of Righteous Among the Nations, those non-Jews who risked their lives to help save Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

This performance launches a world tour that includes performances at New York's Carnegie Hall in April 2023, as well as in Los Angeles, Warsaw, Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig during 2023 and 2024, also featuring renowned cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper as a soloist.