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Yevgeny Kutik

Playing Music for the March of the Living

April 23, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Last week, at the invitation of International March of the Living (MOTL), I traveled to Poland to perform at the Holocaust memorial ceremony, held in Auschwitz-Birkenau. In addition to playing at the Auschwitz ceremony, I performed at a concert honoring the liberators who were the first to enter concentration camps and discover Nazi atrocities. I also visited sites around Poland, including the mass graves near Tykocin and the Treblinka concentration camp. As I flew back to the USA, I found that I was at a loss for words. Without a doubt, this was one of the most profoundly moving weeks of my life, yet at the same time I didn’t quite know what to say.

Tykocin is a small village in northeastern Poland. Around the time of WWII it was inhabited by 1800 Jewish residents. Over the course of two days, as the Nazis came in, nearly all the residents of this village were taken to the nearby forest and executed in waves. Three pits were dug and the residents were forced to stand in them as they were shot one group at a time, each standing upon the bodies of the previously shot group. The Treblinka concentration camp was responsible for the death of over 800,000 Jews. This camp was designed to execute thousands within hours of arrival. Mass graves and several cremation pits, one of which survives today, were used to dispose of the dead bodies.

Upon visiting each of these sites and hearing details of the indescribable subhuman perversity shown by the Nazis, I would find myself go through the same pattern of thought and emotion: shock, a passionate anger and frankly, hate, sadness, and grief.

And then suddenly, on the day of the Yom Hashoah ceremony at Auschwitz, I began to experience hope. In preparation for the ceremony I arrived early and walked the length of the overwhelmingly enormous field at the Bierkenau death camp to get to a makeshift stage at the other end. An eerie silence filled the space as I quietly walked by myself. After a week of seeing the remnants of Holocaust atrocities first-hand, I was beset by sadness and confusion. After warming up, I stood off in the wings getting ready to open the Yom Hashoah ceremony with music. As I waited, I suddenly saw the first of over 10,000 people start marching onto the field of Birkenau; many of them young, together with Holocaust survivors, veterans, VIP’s, Jews, and non-Jews all walking arm in arm down the same path countless numbers walked to their deaths. This was hope in physical form – the future, understanding, love, and a commitment to good. Inspired, I went out on stage.

As at Auschwitz, both at Tykocin and Treblinka, I pulled out my violin and played. At Tykocin I stood by one of the mass graves and played Ravel’s Kaddish. Here is the performance:

At Treblinka, I stood by the remaining cremation pit and played Kol Nidre at the site were so many were turned to ash. The sound of music cutting through the quiet, hallowed silence said more than I could ever express with words. What is there to say? These horrific events happened, and they will forever be burned into our history. All we can do now is always remember what happened and work together to make sure such evil and hate never shows its face again. Never again.

From Don Sullivan
Posted on April 23, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Thank you for the beautiful blog. It is sobering considering how many lost their lives. It is true that we need to remember so this never happens again. So many beautiful lives cut down. It is very sad. Thank you for sharing your experience and honoring so many who endured such great tragedy & atrocity.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 24, 2012 at 12:30 AM
That is very moving. I especially like the parts about hope and "never again."

From elise stanley
Posted on April 24, 2012 at 1:04 AM
Thank you Yevgeny. A large part of my mother's family was lost in that period of hate. And maybe I could add a word for all the non-jews that also perrished in the same pits - gypsies, homosexuals - anyone who did not fit the narrow definition of genetic perfection in the narrowest of minds. Indeed, from what I have read Hitler hated the Poles with a passion and murdered millions of christians there as well as jews. The 'holocaust' was without doubt a jewish tragedy but it was also a tragedy for all of humanity.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 24, 2012 at 1:30 PM
Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and your beautiful music from this experience. A very moving blog.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 25, 2012 at 3:55 PM
Both your blog and your playing moved me to tears. Thank you so much for taking the time to choose the right words (never an easy thing) that capture the experience and this oh-so-important piece of history, and what a lovely ending, your reference to hope, followed by listening to your wonderful playing. Really soul-stirring.

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