TACOMA, WASH. (March 5, 2015)- Tears were shed, laughs were had and ovations were given in response to the stories of Ela Stein Weissberger.
Weissberger visited Pacific Lutheran University on March 5 for the Eighth Annual Powell-Heller Conference for Holocaust Education. Her speech in the Chris Knutzen Room was attended by over 200 people, leaving standing room only.
“I speak from my heart,” she said, in some of her first words Thursday afternoon. “I will speak from my heart until I die.”
Weissberger is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp known as Terezin. She was one of 15,000 children who passed through the camp.
During her time at the camp, she performed 55 times in the children’s opera Brundibar.
Weissberger shared that Terezin has been described as “the Juilliard for the Jews” — the camp was comprised of many musicians, artists and teachers who honed their skills while incarcerated. This collision between captivity and creativity culminated at Brundibar.
Brundibar was exploited as Nazi propaganda, used as false evidence of the Nazi’s ethical treatment of those they imprisoned. Weissberger can be seen playing the cat in a 1944 recording.
Weissberger has spent her adult life traveling all over the globe to be involved with productions of Brundibar, reminding the world of the importance of children and the arts.
“I’m trying to tell children in schools, if they have some opportunity to do some arts — do it,” Weissberger said. “Don’t let anyone discourage you.”
Her advocacy has had a profound impact on many people.
“Ela has taken an opera and elevated it to a life-changing experience,” said Mina Meller, the artistic director of Music of Remembrance who introduced Weissberger.
Lutes attending her lecture expressed they felt this way, too.
“It was very powerful to understand that what we hear in history class has really happened to this woman.” Shannon Kelley ’18 said. “Knowing the mass deaths of the Holocausts already had an impact on me, but this made it personal.”
For more information about Weissberger’s story, visit the March 2014 profile at The Seattle Times.