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''YOU CAN TAKE EVERYTHING FROM ME, BUT NEVER MY MUSIC''

They are, Pavel Haas, Nico Veldius, Gideon Klein, Saul Kastro, Simone Ishaki, Viktor Ullmann, Zikmund Schul, and millions of others that are not named here... As they were disappearing under the shadows due to time and evilness of humankind, two valuable researchers, two people of art and music, Renan Koen and Gottfried Wagner chose to bring them to light.
I am, Pavel Haas
I was born in 1899 in Czechoslovakia. I was only 45 when I was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.
I am, Gideon Klein
I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1919. With superior musical talent. My intense musical training ended when I was sent to Terezin in 1941. When I lost my life tragically in the camps in 1945, I was only 26. The works I have composed in Terezin and before the war was discovered luckily.
I am Simone Ishaki
I live in Istanbul. I come from a family that witnessed the war in Marseilles when I was five and that migrated from France in the 1900s. Despite of the many separations and losses in my family, I still live in Istanbul.
I am Saul Kastro
I was born in Kuzguncuk, Istanbul in 1901. I moved to France in 1919, and after the war I was first taken to the Drancy camp and later sent to the Royallieu Campeigne. I barely could resist to see the end of the war. 10 days later I when I could take it no more, weak and ill, I was just 40. With the dairies I had in the camps, I wanted to leave traces to the future of what we went through.
I am Zikmund Schul
I was born in Germany. I am a composer. In 1941 I was sent to the Terezin Camp. I died there. Ullmann is going to say these about me: “With Schul we lost a very important personality that manged to become a human in its true meaning, and a significant artist that paved his way with ambition. What I am about to say are not usual words one says after the deceased.”. He was certainly right when he said these just before I died: “This is so bad for me. Give peace, purified from my sins... Contrary to your happy people and ancient creation.”.
I am Nico Veldius
I am the son of Dutch resister Bastian Wilkiss Veldius. I still live in Turkey.
I am Viktor Ullmann
When I was sent from Prague to Terezin I was a known musician. In Terezin, as an organizer, maestro, pianist and music critic, I participated in building a cultural life in the “spare time activities” in this so called “show camp”. With reckless abandon to the physical and psychological attitudes I was subjected to, I continued to compose.
I am Ella
I was among the children that sang in the Brundibar opera that was performed 55 times in 1944. The opera was created on the order of the Nazi officials to deceive the Red Cross officials and to demonstrate that conditions at Terezin was supposedly healthy and humane; completely unreal. Those children that performed in the opera, most of them, were sent to Auschwitz. I survived. I live in America now. They often ask me, “how did you move on, how did you survive in the camps as a child?”. I simply answer: By singing.
They are, Pavel Haas, Nico Veldius, Gideon Klein, Saul Kastro, Simone Ishaki, Viktor Ullmann, Zigmund Schul, and millions of others that are not named here... They are the people that were shaped by war and tyranny, they are the people that were intended to be exterminated by genocide, yet they chose life not only physically, but also with their backgrounds, perspectives, and cultures. Even in the center of absolute evilness, they resisted. In spite of the low chances, they released the power of life within through music and the will to survive. They reflected their inner lights through talent, and they added meaning to their lives even in the endlessly inhumane and meaningless circumstances of the camps and they resisted by blessing life. They are very different personalities, respectable and unforgettable people. In fact they should never be forgotten. What they did, what they went through, their works and their experiences... As they were disappearing under the shadows due to time and evilness of humankind, two valuable researchers, two people of music and art, chose to bring them to light. Renan Koen and Gottfried Wagner, researched, examined, and collected the documents that were fading due to the ruthlessness of time, and presented them to the people of Istanbul in an event that was organized to memorialize the Holocaust, which was sponsored by the municipality of Sisli, Anatolian Culture Group, and the 500th Year Foundation, in company with the Nazim Hikmet Choir. This project that was created after long and dense researches, is actually the first of many to come. Now, it’s time to give the floor to Renan Koen and Gottfried Wagner.
Gottfried Wagner- I have been invited by Jewish Communities in the entire world, across five continents throughout my professional carrier. I have been living in Italy for 35 years, but I lived in New York, as well. I worked in the administration of the Kurt Weill Foundation, due to my interest in the Jewish culture and history that was related to what they went through in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, as you would imagine, it’s not easy to achieve this when you are the grandson of Willfried Wagner, who was a militant Nazi. It’s quite a serious struggle, isn’t it? Hence, I have always regarded my duty in the Kurt Weill Foundation as a passport, an identity. You shouldn’t generalize, a totally different person may come out of the darkest tribe.
Dalia Maya: Lately, I’ve been reading the autobiography of Zak Ebrahim. He is the son of a prominent Hamas terrorist. He is exhausted by terror and claims that people need to be constructive. He is a son that left his father’s path. In his book, he talks about the difficulties he faced.
Gottfried Wagner : Yes, it’s difficult. Absolutely very difficult. But you know, especially the period I was working at Kurt Weill was very important for me. I grew up in the aftermath of Hitler’s Germany. Of course, it was dominated by a deep silence. Some of the subjects were not discussed. Yet, I grew up in a very political environment. Our family property was being used by American soldiers. As for us, we were living in the gardener’s house next to it. This was like a huge gift to me. When I looked out, I used to see the American soldiers coming and going, their flags with the stars and stripes were hanging in my grandfathers house... Naturally, these created questions in my mind. I was 4-5 years old, and I was very curious. I wondered what had happened. The house was used for big parties. I was a hungry little child, living in the post-war era. But the Germans could never want something from the American intruders. That’s how my father used to tell me: “Say nothing! Don’t ask for anything from them! You are a German and you can’t ask for help from Americans!”. One day, as I was looking at a party out of my window, I saw a marvelous cake. I was craving for it. I was hungry. I didn’t care what my father had told me. With juvenile instincts, I asked for it. It was the first time I was meeting with an African American. In a plate, he brought me a slice of cake with an orange next to it. I understood that, they were “good Americans”. Although they were intruders, they were being nice to the people. I never had a problem with them about anything. They taught me the first personal lesson of my life with the piece of cake they offered me in my grandmother’s house, in the graveside of Richard Wagner, who were both racists and anti-Semites. The first attempts of questioning of a child... Among the grown up people, despite their alienation, one person regards another like a human being and treats like one. How a great contradiction was this, what I have witnessed in this house, when compared to things I had heard at home and in the German society. This short story started to shape my future life. And there was music too, of course. At the opera, one could only listen to Wagner. However, this music, as a child, scared me. For it was very dark. It was talking about escaping from sins and purification of the blood. And as a child, I did not understand much, of course.
“As a matter of fact, it is possible to describe what had happened on those dark times with these words: Experiencing radical evil”
Theresienstadt/ Terezin concentation camp is a special case in which evil- especially onto Jews- was exercised in such an unfathomable level.
(Leo Beck)
Like in every kind of evil, creating beauties within this evil is going to be possible at all costs, maybe even despite of the man himself. Viktor Ullmann, a Jewish artist among many others that was taken to Terezin, wrote these to his diary: “composing as an artist was a way to advance ethical values; it meant creating a moral world against evil and resist to it.”
D.M. : Dear Renan, let’s talk a little about you. How did you start to research this music? How did this journey that leads to the musical world of the Terezin Camp begin?
Renan Koen : I was struck by the Terezin Camp. As a child, I have never heard of the existence of a camp, in which the artists were being sent to. When I first heard about it, I couldn’t believe it. Then I started to wonder. What did the artists there do, with their music life? How did they continue, were they able to continue? What kind of compositions did they create? What was left from them? As I researched, as I learned that these artists managed to continue to create in these inexplicable circumstances, I was driven from one shock to another. How did they possibly manage to create there? The music, the art, the literature, the poetry... Firstly, I wrote to the Terezin Foundation. After I gathered the list, I started to research their lives and works. Naturally and primarily, I was curious about the compositions they had written for the piano. Then, with time I discovered that the choral pieces were very strong as well. Not only the music, but also the lyrics were very powerful. I started to order the notes, but this process took a couple of years. In 2011, in the Neve Shalom Synagogue, I performed one piano suite and one choral piece. As I researched, I wanted to go deeper; as I went deeper, I wanted to understand the artists more. This project that seemed to be an external course, was in a way and internal one. A huge internal course. Understanding what had happened in Terezin, what those composers went through was really tough. And it was an incredible journey that went deeper and deeper.
D. M. : How did the two of you come together?
R.K. : As I researched, I was thinking that these things should be shared. This is how the seeds of the “Before Sleep” project was planted. Firstly, I went to the 500th Year Foundation that has always helped me and still helps me. I told them that I wanted to organize a concert that would be open to everyone. I want everybody to know what happened in the past. Because this is vital in shaping the future. At this stage, I wanted the concert to be at Depo. For this reason, I contacted the chairman of Anatolian Culture, Osman Kavala. He too believed in the project from the very start. Therefore, he contacted the Sisli Municipality, because Depo was too small. The major of Sisli loved the project too, so we started to talk about Zorlu PSM, which was much more appropriate for the project.
When you have a purpose that would be good for the society, only an instant takes for a collaboration to be formed. Hence, Renan contacts Gottfried Wagner, whom she knows that made deep researches on Terezin, and tells him about her project. Less than 15 minutes after the e-mail, replies start to come. They take advantage of technology, they use Skype, exchange thousands of e-mails, documents...
G.W. : As far as I’m concerned, this is a mission. As soon as I set foot in New York, primarily, in some way, I had to convince the people that I wasn’t a Nazi. I had wonderful friendships. For example, Hanna Busoni. She comes from a Jewish family in Berlin. She was completely assimilated. I lived at her place for some while; we discussed on concepts like guilt, shame, pain and sorrow. Because if you’re coming from a certain place like I do, you don’t talk about some things. In the German society and in the Wagner family, you are taught to behave in one way. Because of that, you’re surrounded by wrong information even about yourself! Still, I firmly believe that guilt cannot be inherited. Not at all! I was born in 1947, and I chose a completely different path for myself. Therefore, it’s extremely important that one has monologues, talks with oneself. Only then, you can reach a dialogue. And dialogue is a very long path that is going to last for generations. In a way, when you take this seriously, it becomes a commitment to life. Very clear. When you take this seriously, dialogue becomes a way of life. In my life too, dialogue has been a major source for developments. On this path, I came across with the Jewish dialect. You ask a question and you are answered with a question. It is a typical reaction. When the question isn’t clear enough, you answer it with another question for the sake of clarity. For me, this is a very directive approach. It has a significant role in my cultural and intellectual life. For example, I go to Tel-Aviv and I’m going to give a speech in the university. Of course my duty at the Kurt Weill Institute is a passport in my pocket. Yet, they still stare at you. “Who the hell are you?”. And I tell them, “Listen to me, I’ve got things to say. It’s always possible to change your paths in life. You always have a choice. With all its consequences, of course”.
D. M. : Psychiatrist Victor E. Frankl, who is a camp survivor himself concluded in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” that among the survivors some of them had managed to give meaning to their lives. Do you think the ones that continued to work with music and arts was a way for them to search for meaning?
R.K. : It was beyond search for meaning.
G.W. : Yes, very very powerful.
R.K. : They wanted to resist positively. With music, they resisted in a very strong way. They transformed the inexplicable circumstances they witnessed there into music every day, every minute, every second, every moment...
G.W. : We’re talking about “man” here. Such a power! “No one can take me. Behind me an SS commander stands with a machine gun. He may take my pride, he may take my humanity, but as a composer I am going to continue to compose my music.”. This is the spirit.
D. M. : At the same time, according to the Jewish faith, life should always prevail.
G.W. : Yes, “LeChaim”.
D. M. : Gottfried, you created the Post-Holocaust Discussion Group. Is this a way to add meaning to your life? Or a way to purify your blood?
G.W. : We started our talk with the 6 million that lost their lives, and we added more. The second world war left us a Himalaya made out of dead bodies. This will never go away. 16 million dead bodies. This is the starting point. But you cannot divide them into groups. It is not possible. At this very point, there is a path. You get convinced that the primary condition to step on that path is to listen to others. This is the only approach. All parties should be ready to listen to what others have to say. This is a must. In psychoanalyzes it is possible to establish new foundations in your lives this way. From here, I have to go to New York to attend a conference on the Armenian Deportation. But of course I have to talk about the Jewish Genocide that happened in Europe too. With my past, this is an obligation! It’s an honor but a responsibility at the same time. There are things it brings and there are things it takes away. I, for example, would never be able to achieve my carrier in Germany with the approach that I have. What Primo Levi had said perhaps should be the motto of my life: “You should judge people according to what they personally are, and you shouldn’t place them in a corner of a group”.
But when we talk about the past, we talk with our intellectual build-up. On the other hand, many times we do not apply these thoughts, interests and experiences on our lives. We can’t do, well we don’t do anything on daily sorrows, Syria, Somalia...
G.W. : I don’t exactly think like that. But you’re right. We cannot create sensibilities by staying academic. Sensibility comes primarily from one’s experience. Contradictions always exist. Yet, we always have to talk. We have to talk about all kinds of genocide. We have to talk about Pope Francis’ words. As Sigmund Freud says, people usually cover their lack of communication by inventing enemies. And here lies the difficult part of the job. The primary principle to establish some sort of change is to be able to criticize and self-criticize. If there’s no balance, dialogue cannot be achieved. On Skype, in talks, we have to establish dialogue and awareness and make our stands on issues likes ISIS or whatever is happening in Nigeria and other places. We have to listen to the Syrian refugees, and do whatever we can to help them. If there are 200 women and children in a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, this is a scandal. If I was a father in Syria, what would I do? Wouldn’t I do everything I can to put my family in that ship?
D.M. : If you had something to say to future generations, what would that be?
G.W. : “Have courage for life.”
R.K. : “Get rid of monophonic captivity and try to reach polyphonic freedom.”
I am Gottfried Wagner
I am the grandson of the Wagner family. I think that a man should be evaluated not by the name of the family, but by what he has done. As a musicologist and a philosopher I research and give lessons across the world on German culture, Jewish culture and history and politics of the 19th and 20th century. I worked as a dramatic counselor in the making of the “Lost Childhood” opera that tells the story of the Terezin Camp. I lived the virtue of rejection. I still live it.
I am Renan Koen
I was born in Istanbul and I still live there. I’m a pianist and music therapist. When I went to the Terezin camp and discovered that there was a concentration camp for the Jewish artists I was completely surprised. When I learned that the artists continued to create while they were living in the camp, I was surprised a thousand fold. I researched, questioned, and researched deeper. I studied. I studied the music, I lived the music. And one more time I wanted to give life to the falling stars of the Holocaust. One more time I wanted to give life to the composers that were taken away by the Holocaust at Terezin. I wanted to give sounds to the notes they left behind. I wanted to perform these compositions for the first time ever in Turkey.
I am Erdem Nusret Karakaş
I am the conductor of the Nazim Hikmet Choir. As the soloists of the choir, we have a mission. We want to establish polyphony in life. Every sound should have its place in life. Every sound must have a say, and every say must have a space. As it is in our choir.
Osman Kavala
Chairman of Anadolu Kültür
When Ms. Koen first mentioned the project to me, I thought that such a concert would be very meaningful to memorialize the Holocaust. As you know, these issues are not very well known in our country or the dynamics of internal and external daily politics affect the way we look at the past. And this creates the risk of instrumentalization of the memorialization of the Holocaust. On the other hand, works of art that deals with the situations of humans, tragedies in a sincere way can touch people’s hearts without taking intrumentalization in the equation. Ms. Koen’s project is a very good example for this. It takes its power from the Jewish composers that were sent to the concentration camps and continued to compose there. This project does not only talk about the pure evilness of the Holocaust, it also talks about the spirit of the Eastern European Jews that resisted and continued to create. This project make us learn more from history and not only that, it gives us a lesson about humanity and sets us an amazing example.
Hayri İnönü
Mayor of Şişli
Decades ago, people were forcefully moved from their homes, villages and cities and they were transformed from sorrows to lights. Today we let fly thousands of, millions of birds from our hearts for them. With the melodies we are going to hear in this event that was organized by us, the 500th Year Foundation and Anadolu Kültür, we are going to travel to possibly the coldest and the darkest times of Europe.
Those sorrowful experiences that were lived in those years has been guiding us in achieving social peace across the world. On all unfortunate issues that is going on in today’s world, it is the duty of all of us to reflect the international will on the struggle of human rights.
As I am speaking before you, as its mayor, I would like to talk about my city, Sisli. Sisli is a district in which many minorities live together and is one of the oldest districts of Istanbul that protects and sustains minority cultures. In Sisli, we produce services to conserve common life. In this context, I desire that Sisli sets an example to our country and humanity.
Moris Levi
Chairman of 500th Year Foundation
We are always honored by working with Renan Koen and supporting her in her projects. We always regard her as a profoundly creative and scrupulous artist, and it is always a great pleasure to work with her. We always want to be involved in and give support to her projects. <
Interview / Dalia Maya / Şalom Dergi / May-June Issue 2015 /Source
Interview Photographes: Tania Sisa
Concert Photographes: Alberto Modiano
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