Ilse Weber

The following article contains mentions of abuse and genocide, and may not be suitable for all audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

 

Ilse Weber

Ilse Weber was a multi-talented artist, author, poet, and composer born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1903. While she had success in her early 20s with her children’s books and poetry, today she may be remembered most for her work as a musician. Her remaining body of work consists of only eight songs, written for voice and guitar. These songs were written between 1942 and 1944 when Weber was imprisoned along with many other Jewish artists, musicians, actors, and authors in the concentration camp at Terezin.


Terezin, or Theresienstadt in German, was a concentration camp used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes. They filmed there, showing the ghetto as a bustling town, filled with smiling faces, and assuring concerned parties around the world that they were treating the “detainees” very well. They cited the number of creatives in the camp as a point of pride. This was a camp in which the arts were thriving. This was a lie that, early on in World War II, the Allied Forces believed. They saw the smiling faces, and chose to believe that everything was all in order, and moved on. The starvation, beatings, and brutality that really ruled Terezin were kept out of sight, and out of the mind of most of the world.

Robert Eklund: Terezin Gate


In some ways, though, that lie the Nazis sold was true: the camp was full of artists, composers, authors, poets. Artists like Ilse Weber, Hans Krasa, Gideon Klein, and others were secretly creating and teaching, and putting on performances, plays, and showcases of their own under the noses of the SS. In her time at the camp, Weber worked in one of the children's wards. She wrote songs for them: some were lullabies to help them sleep, others were songs that told of the future. The texts of her works were filled with beautiful imagery of moonlit nights and hills but never divorced from the deep sadness that the cruelty of life in the camp brought. In her piece “Wiegala,” a lullaby, she writes of a peaceful night — the moon shining high in the sky, the wind playing a gentle tune. In “Ade Kamarade,” she writes of two friends saying goodbye as one prepares to leave Terezin with the Poland Transport, a journey that ended at Auschwitz. She and her young son Tommy were later taken on the same train mentioned in the song. They were both murdered in the gas chambers on October 6, 1944.


We often hear the scale of the Holocaust and forget that each of the lives that make up that number were individual people with talents, skills, family, friends. Ilse Weber was one of them. That her work has lived on without her is a tragedy, as well as a testament to the resilience of those who have suffered atrocities at the hands of hateful people. Someone preserved this work because they knew that her life and her art were valuable.


It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the atrocities happening around us and think that the hatred, greed, and cruelty that allowed the Holocaust to happen are things of the past. They are not. It’s our job as artists to look at the world around us — even the ugly things we’d rather not think about — and find a way to bring them to light, to educate, and maybe, just maybe change the future. I’m asking you, my fellow artists and creators, to think of the things that hurt you, the injustices you mourn. Then I ask that you think of what you’re doing to change those things so that, one day, we can look back at hatred, greed, and cruelty as vestiges of days long gone.


For ways to help stop such atrocities, visit the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.


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