In 1997, the late distinguished professor of chemistry Bill Giessen – who grew up in Nazi Germany and devoted himself wholeheartedly to Holocaust remembrance – established the Gideon Klein Award to honor the memory of Gideon Klein, a brilliant Czech pianist and composer who died in a Nazi death camp in January 1945. Given annually since 1998, the award has enabled a very gifted group of students at Northeastern, Hebrew College, and New England Conservatory to study the work of artists persecuted by the Nazis.
This year’s Gideon Klein scholar, Heather Viola, is a Northeastern student pursuing a combined major in International Affairs and Human Services within the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. She is a devoted vocalist and sings in The Northeastern University Choral Society and Chamber Choir and in The Zamir Chorale of Boston. She also works at a nonprofit organization in Cambridge providing social services to victims of domestic violence. Heather writes:
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in studying and expressing culture in all of its forms, and I believe that music is an integral piece of any culture. This fact is especially poignant when examining the culture of the Holocaust.
My research has brought me to places that I had never dreamed were even conceivable. Given my interest in both music and social services, I decided to center my studies around the experience of the Terezin concentration camp, as seen through the eyes (and ears) of a child. Music played a significant role in the lives of many who endured this camp, particularly in the lives of the children. Through my research, I am examining the musical experience of Terezin, while focusing on the children – children’s folksongs, children’s choirs, children’s operas, children’s lullabyes, and so on.
In addition to reading and listening, I have been working with some inspirational people who understand this subject matter as only a few truly can. I worked with the cast of Anna Smulowitz’s play, Terezin: Children of the Holocaust. This drama portrays two days in the lives of six children living in Terezin: preparations for a concert of Verdi’s Requiem are taking place at the same time as a transport train is loading thousands of Jews destined for extermination camps. I have made an appointment to interview Edgar Krasa, a 92 year old survivor who was one of the child performers in Terezin. Next month, I plan to travel to the Czech Republic to tour Terezin itself with another child survivor, Helga Hoskova, an accomplished and widely published artist, as my guide. While in Prague, I will also be working with a Holocaust specialist at the Jewish Museum of Prague, exploring their vast archival selection.
I cannot express how transformative this research has been for me. The Gideon Klein Award has allowed me to bring together the things I am most passionate about in a very real, very personal, and very rewarding manner. Ultimately, it is my hope to take everything that I have worked on this year, and present a musical and educational program to the Northeastern community in the Spring. The Gideon Klein Award provided me with such an encouraging and rare opportunity, so early on in my academic career, and this experience is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.