Music Brings Voices of Anne Frank and Hannah Senesh to Life

Through music mixed with the powerful words of two brave young women who became victims of the cruel reality of the Nazis, TBI remembered not only them but the other 6 million lost in the Holocaust.

On Yom HaShoah — in a most unique way at Congregation Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell — they remembered.
Through music mixed with the powerful words of two brave young women who became victims of the cruel reality of the Nazis, they remembered not only them but the other 6 million lost in the Holocaust.
And they remembered those who survived and whose lives were never the same afterward, as well as the children of those survivors and the countless others impacted by that horrific chain of events.
Bringing Anne Frank: A Living Voice to TBI has been Cantor Elizabeth Shammash’s dream since she participated in a similar program in 2014 at the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival. It turned out to be easier said than done.
“I was so moved by this I had to bring it here,” said Shammash, TBI’s cantor since 2007. “There had never been a Holocaust concert in this synagogue. When I spoke with the rabbi and a handful of people, they thought it would be a good thing.
“The main step is to get the children’s chorus. I knew of Bel Canto (from Bethlehem). I phoned their director, Joy Hirokawa, to see if they were interested, because it essentially takes a year to learn the piece.”
The first part of the concert includes four separate pieces, three of which were sung by Shammash, accompanied by flute, cello and harp.
Meantime, a screen projected images of both Frank and Hannah Senesh, the lesser-known martyr of the war. Senesh actually got out of Europe safely but returned to fight for the Jewish resistance, only to be captured, tortured and eventually killed. It also projected their words taken from texts.
For Michael Cohen, who wrote I Remember in 1996, decades after he first attempted to seek permission from Anne Frank’s family, it was an uplifting experience.
“It’s a real treat for a composer to hear his own music, especially a performance of this caliber,” said Cohen, who came from New York for the occasion.
He wasn’t the only composer in the building.
Linda Tutas Haugen, who wrote the haunting Anne Frank: A Living Voice, said she’s still moved every time she hears it.
Later in the performance there was a candle-lighting ceremony in which 18 candles were lit in six groups of three to honor those impacted by the Holocaust, followed by the children taking to the bimah.
They proceeded to sing actual passages from Frank’s diary, dealing with fear, nerves, her best friend who’d been already taken away, her first love and, ultimately, her hopes and ideals.
For Tutas Haugen, a woman of Norwegian descent who was commissioned in 2002 to write a piece for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, it’s been a labor of love — even though she had to go through all kinds of hoops to make it happen.
“The singers in the chorus were 13 to 18,” said Minneapolis native Haugen, who attended the occasion and addressed the audience before her work was performed. “I remember when I was 12 years old I read Anne Frank, and that was life changing for me.
“It opened my eyes and took the innocence of what I thought the Holocaust was away. I think it’s one thing to know about and another to read first-person accounts. One thing I wanted to do was to elevate the voice of a young girl. Often young girls are dismissed for not having a lot to say.”
What was supposed to be a five-minute piece thus began to evolve into a major production. But there were some significant hurdles to overcome.
“Before I wrote a single note, I had to receive permission to use the text,” she said. “Anne Frank’s only living relative at the time — Buddy Elias — was in Switzerland.
“We corresponded, and when I explained what I was doing, he gave me permission to use anything from the diary. I did extensive research. I read three different English translations of the diary.”
Eventually, it all came together.
The first part of A Living Voice was performed in 2002, but the complete work was not mounted until 2004. It has since been performed throughout the country and in Korea.
“It absolutely met and exceeded my expectations,” said Shammash, who indicated the adrenaline rush from the concert kept her up until 4 a.m. “To see a full house on a Wednesday at 7 p.m. says a lot about what is meaningful to people.
“As I stood by the door receiving people, everyone said they were moved to tears. I’m happy with my own singing, and I felt good about the whole production. To have two composers with us at a small synagogue in Montgomery County, that’s extraordinary.
“But absorbing the stories of Anne Frank and Hannah Senesh in the end is what the whole thing is really about.”
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