Terezin, art and Disability

Wednesday evening I went to St. Michael’s college for a deeply moving evening of chamber music written and performed at Terezin concentration camp. The performance was sponsored by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and Counterpoint. The concert featured the work of two masterful Czech composers, Pavel Haas and Gideon Klein, both of whom died in the camps in 1944. Most of the music was written, and first performed in,  the camps.

Before the concert, former Governor  and  Ambassador, and noted human rights worker, Madeline Kunin spoke briefly. She described her first experiences with a young woman, about her own age at the time, who had survived the camps. The young woman, who had the inevitable tattoo on her upper arm, lived briefly with Madeline’s family shortly following the war. Ambassador Kunin, the first Jewish Ambassador from the US to Austria, acknowledged the impossibility of  asking the young woman about her experiences.

Ambassador Kunin also spoke to the many persons who perished at the camps. At Terezin, the “model” camp, used for propaganda purposes by the Nazis, about ten percent of the inmates who stopped there survived the Holocaust. Ms. Kunin acknowledge the millions of Jews, Gypsies, and persons of other nationalities who died in the unspeakable horrors of the camps. I do not believe she acknowledged the many persons killed simply for being disabled.

The killing of persons whose only crime was being an artist or disabled is one of the great secrets of the death camps. Of course, this is no secret for many persons in the disability community. It is a secret only to the larger world community. This week marks the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of the camps. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge the wholesale torture and murder of persons with disabilities that took place in Europe only 60 years ago.

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