Holocaust service features songs of camp prisoners

April 29, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

Through songs and writings of despair, Chambersburg-area residents entered the world of concentration camp prisoners during a Holocaust memorial service Sunday.

"The Holocaust Cantata communicates inner depth of experience of those caught in concentration camps," said the Rev. Jeffrey Roth.

More than 200 people gathered at St. John's United Church of Christ Sunday in Chambersburg for the 25th annual Holocaust Memorial Service organized by area churches. This year's service featured the "Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps," performed by the Towne Singers.

The program brought together music and writings by concentration camp prisoners.

"For many in that generation, the horrors inflicted on Jews by Nazis was too horrible to imagine. Those in this generation find it almost beyond our imagination as well," Roth said. "But it did happen, to almost six million Jews."


The interfaith ceremony moved Lois Strayer and Shirley Hudson, members of St. John's United Church of Christ.

"I thought it was well done. It was impressive and inspiring," Strayer said.

"It was nice to have a blend of people," Hudson said.

Through writings, those who attended the service learned the prisoners used music as an escape and a way to overcome depression.

"The miracle of the cantata is despite brutality, their voices were not silenced," Roth said.

Some readings were more graphic, including the story of 12 people executed to deter resistance by other prisoners at Auschwitz, or the Nazis taking an 18-year-old girl from her family and sending her by cattle car to Germany.

This was the first time the cantata was performed in central Pennsylvania.

"It was an ambitious undertaking," said the Rev. William Harter, pastor of Falling Spring Presbyterian Church.

The songs, which were found in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum archives, were written in Polish and Yiddish and translated to English.

Verses like "Our thoughts so somber, our hearts so mournful/The time so hopeless, so full of dread/Of fires burning, the iron furnace/That while alive our spirit's flame burns out," kept the audience captivated.

Some songs were about survival, including "Song of the Polish Prisoners," which was written by a prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944: "The strength of our spirits will conquer the tortures. The suffering cannot overpower us!"

The ceremony also included the lighting of 11 candles - for the six million Jews and five million Gentiles who died in the Holocaust - by youth from area churches and the Sons of Israel Synagogue in Chambersburg.

The 25th annual service was sponsored by the United Churches of the Chambersburg Area in cooperation with the Sons of Israel Synagogue, the Evangelical Fellowship of the Cumberland Valley, the Chambersburg Ministerium and the Chambersburg Ministerial Alliance.

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