The boys are off with Martha and the chaps enjoying a well deserved day at a water park outside of Prague. I stayed back to blog – hardly a minute to write when you’re singing with, and keeping safe and sound, 59 boys.
Speaking of the boys, they have done a noble job of absorbing a lot of very heavy subject matter on the Holocaust and specifically, Terezin. While we’ve attempted to moderate the information flow based on age, and certainly the boys have been well prepared to handle the topic gradually over time, there’s no way around it – this is heavy stuff for any age, let alone young people. They more than deserve a day off to just be boys on a careless summer day. What better way to achieve that than Europe’s largest water park?
Yesterday we had the great honor of being guided around Terezin with Inge. Everywhere we walked, we were regaled with stories of her time there – filled with hardship and tragedy, though she pointed out that there was always hope. As Stephen Schwartz wrote in the song “When You Believe”, though hope is frail it’s hard to kill. Inge commented to me at one point that “she doesn’t know why she’s here, why she made it.” The odds of survival were so low (out of 15,000 children, 100 survived), and fate was so random with no rhyme or reason. And yet, yesterday, it was clear to me why Inge made it – to charge 59 American boys in a most profound way that they are now her ambassadors, to pass onto the next generation the warning of what can happen when hate prevails.
There were many incredible moments yesterday. Some highlights:
-taking a photo with Inge under the “Arbeit Macht Frei” entrance
-standing in a small, one room living quarter for 90, realizing that the number of people who were forced to live there was the same as all of our boys, chaperones, staff plus 16 more people. one toilet. wooden bunks. #incomprehensible
-walking through the extensive tunnels that are part of the Terezin fortress walls. #boyheaven
-having Immanuel perform a late Brahams piano piece in the attic of the Magdeburg Barracks, where many of the musical performances that took place in Terezin were rehearsed, often in secret – Verdi’s Requiem, Bizet’s Carmen, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Krasa’s Brundibar. Normally the attic is off limits to tourists but we had a VIP among us – Inge! It was amazing to add our music to that space – with music from past years that represented hope to so many – including many children. Inge added that never in a million years would the Terzin kids, who felt like the world had forgotten them, could have imagined that a bunch of American boys would return there to do just that – remember them.
-the Grads singing Oseh Shalom at the Terezin moratorium and crematorium. (over 50,000 Jews died in Terezin itself, and another 90,000 perished after being transported out of Terezin to camps East)
It was incredibly touching to see the boys instinctively take care of Inge throughout the day. They freely offered her hugs. Without instruction, they would take her hand, or her arm, and walk with her along the cobbled streets of Terezin. They would ask if she was okay. They would put her arm around her when she would cry a bit, perhaps when she would remember a friend who didn’t make it. And sometimes the boy showing Inge the most tenderness was the boy none of us would guess had the capacity to do so. And that is the beauty of tour – it can bring out the very best in the boys. #growth
Know that all of your boys are okay, and that, whatever loss of innocence has resulted in their journey, they are forever changed by this experience in ways that are important to our world today, where hate continues to prevail. The ways in which Terezin and knowing (and loving) Inge will inform their lives, will mostly be subtle, but they will be profound and vital. The ways that it has transformed their lives is real and permanent and invaluable.
And at the end of the day, Inge was happy to have dessert, as were the boys, and in the great tradition of KSB tours, there were Magnum bars for one and all, and so we continue on the road together.