Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Night:" At the Hour of Death, Music Gave a Glimpse of Beauty

 (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

I choose winter's dark days to read with my high school freshmen the Holocaust memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. My students come to high school with a clear understanding of the Holocaust, having spent a full academic quarter in eighth-grade social studies learning about this dark moment for humanity, when state-sponsored genocide erased the lives of millions. But reading the remembrances of a young man who spent a year at about their age with his father in the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald makes the Holocaust true to my students in ways history books cannot.

Although I have read this memoir dozens of times, I remain deeply moved by a particular section: when Wiesel tells of a young man of his acquaintance, Juliek, a Polish Jew who played the violin in a death camp orchestra and then, in the moments before his death, plays Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 61 2nd Movement.

Today I decided, on a whim, or perhaps in a moment of grace, to have the students read the passage to themselves, in silence, while Kyung-Wha Chung played the concerto from my MacBook.

First, however, we talked about Juliek's violin.

Why did the young man carry the instrument through a blizzard to his death bed? Why did he play music in his final moments before a crowd of dead and dying? Why was this so important to him?

"Music," one student said, "soothes you." "It's entertaining," said another. "It's relaxing."

Music takes you out of who and where you are and lets you know there is something beyond your present circumstances.

I sat back down at my desk and watched them read while Beauty filled the room with Presence and Mystery.

In youth, the vibration of all our desire should make us understand that within our life the Mystery urges, that we are made for a great, mysterious destiny." Fr. Julian Carron

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading this book in college with Rabbi Jacobovitz. I read it to my sophomore religion classes who then read "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl when they were juniors. Knowing some of those former students today, I can only say that something "caught" them. I wish I'd been as congnizant of music then, but now, in Lent, it's never too late.