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Commemorating The Holocaust In Music

Photo courtesy of Music of Remembrance

Mina Miller is a Seattle pianist who founded the organization Music of Remembrance 15 years ago. Her passion for the organization springs in part from her family history. Mina comes from a Holocaust family.

My parents were the only survivors in their entire families. They managed to emigrate to America just in time. They came in 1939, around the time of the World’s Fair. They came from Lithuania. But their entire families were murdered. To this day I still have a problem identifying when people talk about their relatives — when they talk about this aunt, this uncle, this cousin. I am like a 3-year-old having to figure this out. I didn’t know any family except that they were all dead. They were all murdered.

The organization that Mina founded in 1998 commemorates the Holocaust by producing live performances and recordings of works by artists like composer Viktor Ullman. He wrote his 1943 opera “The Emperor of Atlantis” while imprisoned in the Terezin Concentration Camp. Ullman’s darkly satirical opera is aimed directly at Hitler and the Nazi dictator’s mistress Eva Braun.

The opera was originally intended to be performed at Terezin, a camp in which Nazi captors, for propaganda purposes, encouraged the creativity of the incarcerated artists and musicians. But the subject matter of Ullman’s opera proved too subversive for the time and circumstances.

Shortly after he completed “The Emperor of Atlantis,” Ullman was transported to Auschwitz and executed in the gas chambers. His opera wasn't performed until 1975.

Mina Miller says her work with Music of Remembrance is always driven by inspiration drawn from stories of artists and the Holocaust:

As a musician I always felt that music should serve a higher purpose, not just serve as entertainment. It should convey a message. It should communicate something that gets at the essence of who we are. When I researched the Holocaust and I came to know the kind of performances that were taking place in Terezin, I understood that there was a profound human spirit there. These artists, knowing that they were going to die, created music up to the very last moment! I felt with Music of Remembrance there could be a vehicle to present this music. And we build new bridges and bring music to new generations by commissioning new music that reflects on the Holocaust and tells new stories that need to be heard.

Seattle Symphony conductor Ludovic Morlot and 13 members of the orchestra will accompany the singers in performances of “The Emperor of Atlantis” this weekend in Benaroya Hall. These concerts, marking the beginning of the 15th season of Music of Remembrance are Friday, November 16 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 18 at 6:00 p.m.