Memo­r­i­al to the Mar­tyrs of the Depor­ta­tion, Paris. Pho­to: Daniel Fryer

The great ­­­the­olo­gian Karl Barth once said, It may be that when the angels go about their task of prais­ing God, they play only Bach. I am sure, how­ev­er, that when they are togeth­er en famille, they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord lis­tens with spe­cial plea­sure.” What a love­ly and apt image for a com­pos­er chris­tened Theophilus — a name in which both God and love are insep­a­ra­ble — bet­ter known, of course, as Amadeus.

As pro­gram direc­tor and announc­er for Miami’s late, lament­ed clas­si­cal radio sta­tion, WTMI-FM, I espe­cial­ly enjoyed choos­ing music for the month of Jan­u­ary — the month in which Mozart was born — start­ing out the year with Mozart’s first piano con­cer­to, both the day and the music filled with promise. Every suc­ceed­ing day in Jan­u­ary, I played anoth­er piano con­cer­to on the air. Final­ly, I would announce his Twen­ty-Sev­enth Piano Con­cer­to on Jan­u­ary 27, Mozart’s birthday.

It’s his last work in the form and a mas­ter­piece in its own way. The serene mid­dle move­ment is filled with a win­try beau­ty, rem­i­nis­cent of the line from Shakespeare’s Son­net 73: Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” Per­haps the ele­giac tone res­onat­ed every time I heard it on the composer’s birth­day only because I knew that by Decem­ber of the year he com­plet­ed it, Mozart would be dead.

Long before the music died on WTMI, I had moved on, leav­ing behind my radio voice to find a writ­ing voice. When I was research­ing my nov­el, I learned of anoth­er event that had tak­en place on Jan­u­ary 27, almost two cen­turies after Mozart was born: the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz in 1945. Much of my book is set against the back­drop of Notre Dame, but behind the cathedral’s soar­ing tow­ers is a memo­r­i­al that sinks into the ground. At the Depor­ta­tion Memo­r­i­al, a bronze cir­cle is chis­eled with the words: They went to the end of the earth and they did not return” — a reminder of the dark shad­ows that under­pin the City of Light.

As I delved into the dark years when Paris was under Nazi occu­pa­tion and Jews were being round­ed up, it was a shock to real­ize that Mozart’s exu­ber­ant Thir­ty-Sixth Sym­pho­ny, the Linz sym­pho­ny, was writ­ten for a vis­it to the city where much lat­er his fel­low Aus­tri­an, Adolf Hitler, would spend his for­ma­tive years. When the world sub­se­quent­ly learned of the hor­rors of the con­cen­tra­tion camps and came face-to-face with the unthink­able num­ber — six mil­lion — it seemed that art, music, and lan­guage must all be ren­dered mute. What words, images or sounds could be equal to the task of con­fronting the scale of the Shoah?

What words, images or sounds could be equal to the task of con­fronting the scale of the Shoah?

Yet art, music, and lan­guage were also acts of resis­tance for those swept up in the Shoah. The con­cen­tra­tion camp at There­sien­stadt (the Ger­man name for the Czech town of Terezín) was where the musi­cal lumi­nar­ies of Prague were herd­ed, as Joža Karas writes in his book, Music in Terezín 1941 – 1945. They per­formed, they con­duct­ed, and they com­posed. Sur­vivors cred­it­ed music with sav­ing their lives, which was lit­er­al­ly true in cas­es where their skills kept them from being sent east,” a euphemism for cer­tain death in one of the exter­mi­na­tion camps.

At one of the per­for­mances at There­sien­stadt, Rafael Schächter con­duct­ed Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem. The Catholic mass for the dead was a con­tro­ver­sial choice for those held in a Jew­ish con­cen­tra­tion camp and even more so when pre­sent­ed at a gala per­for­mance host­ed by Adolf Eich­mann for the Red Cross. But it was also an act of resis­tance; as Karas points out, the Jews were open­ly con­demn­ing the Nazis in the words of the Dies Irae, which they sang:

Lo! the book, exact­ly worded,

Where­in all hath been recorded,

Thence shall judg­ment be awarded.

When the Judge his seat attaineth,

And each hid­den deed arraigneth,

Noth­ing unavenged remaineth.

There­sien­stadt was a Potemkin camp, a show put up to deceive the Red Cross and the rest of the world about how Jews were real­ly being treat­ed. But in oth­er camps, even where the pris­on­ers knew they were fac­ing cer­tain death, they con­tin­ued to write, draw, and com­pose. In a recent 60 Min­utes seg­ment, Ital­ian pianist and com­pos­er Francesco Lotoro recounts how he has been gath­er­ing, com­plet­ing, and per­form­ing all the music he can get his hands on from the con­cen­tra­tion camps. To him, this is not just the music of the inmates, but also their last tes­ta­ment.” Although many per­ished, their music lives on. It is a call to mem­o­ry: nev­er forget.

Although many per­ished, their music lives on. It is a call to mem­o­ry: nev­er forget.

But it seems we are in dan­ger of for­get­ting. Grim echoes of the past are every­where: Jew­ish graves defaced by swastikas in Alsace, dead­ly attacks on syn­a­gogues in the States, pri­ma­ry school chil­dren par­tic­i­pat­ing in a hor­rif­ic Auschwitz-themed bal­let in Poland. The words of writer and Holo­caust sur­vivor Pri­mo Levi are chill­ing­ly per­ti­nent: It hap­pened, there­fore it can hap­pen again … It can hap­pen, and it can hap­pen everywhere.”

This Jan­u­ary 27, on Inter­na­tion­al Holo­caust Remem­brance Day, dig­ni­taries from around the world will gath­er to mark the sev­en­ty-fifth anniver­sary of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz. I will watch the live broad­cast of the cer­e­mo­ny. I will also think of Karl Barth, who defied Hitler and loved Mozart, as I lis­ten to the Twen­ty-Sev­enth Piano Con­cer­to by the com­pos­er beloved of God.’ But in the ensu­ing silence, what will con­tin­ue to rever­ber­ate in my mind are the words: Nev­er again, nev­er again, nev­er again.

Mam­ta Chaudhry’s writ­ing has been pub­lished in the Mia­mi Review, The Tele­graph, The States­man, and Writer’s Digest. For many years she worked in tele­vi­sion and clas­si­cal radio at sta­tions in Cal­cut­ta, Gainesville, Dal­las, and Mia­mi. She and her hus­band live in Coral Gables, Flori­da, and spend part of each year in India and France. Haunt­ing Paris is Chaudhry’s first novel.