Dr. Peter Gary discusses A 20th Century Passion, which is set to première in Jerusalem Oct. 17, in a documentary-in-the-making by Hilary Pryor and David Malysheff. (screenshot from a20thcenturypassion.org/documentary)
For most of his life, Dr. Peter Gary never spoke of the three years he spent in Majdanek, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen from the ages of 17-21, or that he and his mother were shot and left for dead on Christmas Eve, 1941. Yet, in 1993, after immigrating to Canada and British Columbia, he founded the Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society and began to lecture in schools up and down Vancouver Island and in coastal British Columbia. Over the years, he has spoken to more than 65,000 children and youth, college and university students – imparting his message that you can’t live with hate, you can only die with hate.
A 20th Century Passion is an oratorio Gary has composed that depicts the story of the Holocaust and the years preceding and following it, from the end of the First World War through the Nuremburg trials. It is a huge piece – the score alone is 587 pages – that requires a full orchestra, an adult and a children’s choir as well as four soloists plus the conductor. That’s more than 100 people involved in the performance, which is set to première Oct. 17 in Jerusalem – if there is enough to finance the rehearsals, logistics and everything else needed to bring it to life.
Gary’s wife, Judy Estrin, talks about the fundraising project in a video at gofundme.com/20thcenturypassion. She and others involved in the project are asking that people give today. Instead of a latte, give to the music. Challenge your friends to give. If each of the 65,000-plus students who heard Gary’s message over the last 25 years gave $2 to $5, the concert would be funded, a documentary made – Hilary Pryor, executive producer, and David Malysheff, documentarian, have already more than 14 hours of film “in the can” – and there would be funds to donate to help the dwindling number of survivors left.
Gary, a classically trained composer, wrote both the score and the libretto of A 20th Century Passion in the 1970s as a remembrance of the children murdered by the Nazis. The piece has never been performed. (For more on the work and a planned concert in British Columbia that was canceled, see jewishindependent.ca/holocaust-survivor-peter-garys-oratorio.)
In his talks to high school students, Gary speaks about hate, about bullying, about the Holocaust. He leaves them with a message: stamp out hate. This message is more important than ever, as the horrors visited upon Gary and his family are being repeated.
Here is an excerpt from the libretto of A 20th Century Passion by Gary:
Why do you hate me so much?
What have I done to you? –
You really haven’t, but you are a Jew!
For this alone you have to hate….
Why don’t you see me as human, awake?
You must have some feeling,
So many of us, not knowing – just killing….
Whether it’s many that I kill or few
Matters so little, since you are a Jew!
Look at our women, they’re mothers like yours;
Our whimpering children, the frightened old….
Don’t you have young ones, or fathers who….
Oh yes we have them, but none of them Jew!
Our leader decided for all you to die!
We are the masters and do as told….
Being big, strong and hardened and bold….
Look how I’m smiling the same smile you have,
Whenever I’m bleeding my blood is the same red.
I’m speaking the same voice,
Our hands are the same….
I told you, you fool Jew, I told you in vain….
You are not worthy, not human, that’s that!
I pity you man –
When you finish killing – you too are dead.