Three video selections from Harmonium performance of Annelies; toggle among them on playlist tab:
The question lingers in the wake of catastrophes. The man who survived because he overslept and missed his train to work in the World Trade Center the day terrorist planes hit the towers; the family of the woman visiting a corner store, hit by a stray bullet in a robbery: What if he’d been on time? What if she’d shopped elsewhere? How might a slight change in circumstances have changed a life, and the world?
The Harmonium Choral Society’s haunting, melodic portrayal of the story of Annelies “Anne” Marie Frank to a packed house at the Morristown United Methodist Church earlier this month, evoked such questions.
Accompanied by piano, clarinet, violin and cello, the 100-strong chorus, and clear-voiced soprano soloist Rachel Clark portraying Anne, sang the words and story of the young Jewish teenager whose famous diary chronicled her experiences in hiding during World War II before she was sent to die in a Nazi concentration camp.
In one scene, taken from Anne’s diary, the teen dreams of a friend, Hanneli “Lies” Goslar, begging for rescue “from this hell.” The friends actually met later at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, said Margot Jackler, who assembled the slides that accompanied the performance of James Whitbourn’s Annelies. Ultimately, Lies survived the war; Anne did not.
“What would have happened if Anne Frank had survived?” Jackler pondered after the show. “We wouldn’t have all of this if she had survived. She had so much to say.”
For Holocaust survivor Cili Neufeld of Brooklyn, the changes and chances – the “what if’s” of war – tipped the other way. “I went through what Anne Frank did, but I survived,” she said. “I went through a lot. I was only 16 years old.”
Neufeld, now 87, was born in a part of the former Czechoslovakia taken over by Hungary in 1939. During the war, she said, “I was in hiding.”
She recalled one occasion when she and her siblings were hidden in a haystack. Someone heard her brother cough and went to fetch the police. Their protector brought them to a bunker, then lit the haystack on fire, so the police had no evidence to find.
Those who hid them took good care of them, she said. “We were just very lucky. … We were never hungry.”
“We survived,” she said. “I survived with a sister and four brothers.” The Russians liberated them in 1944.
Neufeld attended the March 2 performance with her daughter, Rita Silverstein, who heard about the concert from Joel Kaplan, cantor at Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, where her husband is rabbi.
“I’m absolutely drained emotionally,” Kaplan said after the concert. “I think they did a phenomenal, phenomenal job, and I hope that many, many people get to hear this.”
Directed by Anne Matlack, Harmonium also performed Annelies on March 1, with Laura Winslow singing Anne’s role. The concert began with a prelude by Harmonium’s madrigal singers and ended with I Believe, words found written by a Jew hiding from the Nazis that Harmonium composer-in-residence and Drew University professor Mark Miller set to music and dedicated in honor of his sister.
“I Believe,” composed by Mark Miller:
The concert program included Harmonium members’ Holocaust stories told to them by family, friends and colleagues.
Among them was an entry by Paul Flowerman, Jackler’s husband, who was unable to sing in this concert but volunteered his wife to create the slideshow.
It became a larger endeavor than they expected. He tells people it took her 250 hours; “I lost track,” Jackler said.
But it was worth it, she said. “It was wonderful. You just kind of lived it.”
“I already had read the book as a child,” she said. She listened to the individual songs that make up Annelies and began searching the Internet for photos but soon realized she needed to go “line by line,” finding images to match the libretto. “I had to use my imagination.”
The final slideshow married images from the Franks’ life and hiding place with other pictures from World War II and elsewhere, accompanied by narrative from Anne’s diary and explanatory information.
“It just took a lot of time and energy,” Jackler said. “It was challenging, but it was something I really enjoyed doing.”
The story also hit close to home. Both she and her husband lost relatives in the war. She has wondered whether her name, with its unusual spelling for the time, might have been inspired by Anne’s sister, Margot. And, in February, she got to meet Anne’s stepsister, 84-year-old Eva Schloss, after she gave a talk and book-signing in Florida.
After the war, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, married Eva’s mother. Both families had lived in the same apartment building, and the girls were friends, although very different, Jackler said, recounting Schloss’ description.
Young Eva was a “tomboy,” Anne a “flirt” and “blabbermouth” – “They would call her Mrs. Quack Quack.” Anne used to have to stay after school and write lines on a blackboard in punishment for being a chatterbox.
Eva had an older brother, about the same age as Margot. The two older siblings got call-up papers to Nazi work camps at the same time, which propelled both families into hiding.
Unlike the Franks, who stayed together, Eva’s family split, with mother and daughter hiding in one place, father and son in another. They hid in seven different places, occasionally seeing each other, but ultimately were betrayed by a double agent and sent to Auschwitz, where men were separated from women and parents from children. On the train to Auschwitz, Eva’s father told her, “I can’t protect you any longer.”
In the camp, Jackler said, “She did manage to see her dad a few times.”
During camp inspections, prisoners would be separated into groups of workers and those destined for the gas chambers. Eva’s mother put her coat and hat on her to make her look older. At one point, her mother was chosen for death, and it was three months later Eva discovered she had survived. But Eva meanwhile had told her father his wife was dead, and she “thinks he lost the will to live,” Jackler said. He and Eva’s brother both died in the camp.
After the war, it was Otto Frank who gave Eva’s mother the will to live, Jackler said, adding, “He said he could only have married somebody who had gone through the same thing.”
For many years, Schloss didn’t talk about her family experiences. But for the past 20 years, she has traveled, telling her story, especially to young people. In Florida, where Jackler and Flowerman have a home, Jackler had Schloss sign a copy of her book, Eva’s Story, and pose for a photo. Schloss’ latest book is The Promise: The Moving Story of a Family in the Holocaust.
It was just one more coincidence, wrapping the stories together.
“It kind of brought the whole experience full circle,” Jackler said.