The weekly magazine was published in secret by a group of boys at the Theresienstadt ghetto, or Terezin concentration camp, for two years. Of the about 100 boys ages 12 to 16 who passed through the dorm where the publication was produced, only 15 lived to see the end of World War II.
Today only one, Sidney Taussig, is alive, and it’s his story the Keystone State Boychoir (KSB) aims to tell with its upcoming performance.
The Boychoir will pay homage to Taussig and Vedem’s other contributors with a performance at 5 p.m. on June 1 at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Fisher, the KSB music director, described the event as a presentation incorporating poetry and prose published in Vedem along with song, accumulating together into what Fisher described as a play.
Fisher said he was inspired to create a show to pay tribute to Vedem after learning of its origins. The magazine was created in 1942 by Petr Ginz, who served as its editor-in-chief. He and the other boys of Barracks L417, or Home One, smuggled supplies into the ghetto to create the magazine’s poems, essays and drawings. An abandoned typewriter was used to type the first 30 issues, with the next 53 made by hand after running out of ink.
One boy would serve as lookout as the rest worked from either their bunks or from a table in the center of the room. A signal would be given if any Nazi guards approached, and nicknames were used in the bylines to protect their identities. Today, many of these creators’ real names are lost; they’re now only known by their pseudonyms.
“That whole concept of boys surviving without their parents, the way they’re resilient, the way they figure things out, resonated with me,” Fisher said. “I know what it’s like to deal with homesickness but, of course, in the sense of touring, you know that they’re going to be reunited with their parents in two or three weeks. And then just this unfathomable reality for these boys. Most of them, not only were not going to be reunited with their parents, but would not survive themselves.”
Surprised he had never heard of Vedem, Fisher set out to find living contributors. He found one in Florida — Taussig. The two met and Fisher pitched the idea of having the choir do a tribute to him and Vedem as a means of learning about the Holocaust.
“I welcome the invitation,” Taussig said. “The young generation can find out what the Holocaust was and [so] it will never happen again.”
Taussig not only wrote for the magazine, but was instrumental in its preservation. Creator Ginz was sent to Auschwitz in 1944 where he was murdered in the gas chambers at 16. Vedem ceased publication that same year, its memory surviving today due to the efforts of Taussig. He remained in the camp until the end of the war and hid all copies inside a blacksmith shop where his father worked.
Upon liberation, he brought the issues with him to Prague. Today, a compilation of the magazine titled We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin is available in English in paperback. It’s those words that will be on full display at the Boychoir performance.
The production is directed by Whit MacLaughlin, artistic director of the New Paradise Laboratories theater ensemble. Fisher said it’s been an interesting dynamic as the choir boys are the same age as those who wrote for Vedem, adding that a few were hesitant to read aloud poems instead of solely sing.
That’s fitting, Fisher said, because the writers of Vedem were reluctant participants as well.
“It’s very appropriate because what Mr. Taussig talks about is that most of the boys who wrote the poems and prose for the magazine, they were not boys who would have ever written a poem or prose in their life,” Fisher said. “They only wrote because they were in the situation and the boy, the editor, said, ‘You’re going to do this.’”
Taussig hopes the show will be a learning opportunity.
He said the lesson he wants people to take away from his story is to never forget the Holocaust and for children to enjoy their youth, something the Nazis partly took away from him.
“The kids, 13- and 15-year-olds, get to go to school. I wasn’t able to go to,” Taussig said. “In the camp, I had to wake up and go to work, which I didn’t like, bringing dead people to the crematorium or collecting garbage or plowing in the field. So now these days, the kids, they wake up and go to school. They can enjoy their youth. I couldn’t. That’s why it’s important they cherish the freedom they enjoy.”
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