Legacy of music: Research brings to light dedicated artists

By David Carlson

Back in grad school, when I first thought about becoming a college professor, I imagined that I would be constantly learning. After all, I’d be surrounded by smart people, would I not?

In many ways, my hope has been realized. Colleagues, students, and visiting speakers have opened my eyes to much that I would otherwise have missed.

However, I confess that being a professor hasn’t allowed me as much time to talk with colleagues and learn from them as I had hoped. I live with regrets as I ponder what I have missed because I have often been too busy to attend the many presentations offered at Franklin College.

This past week, I did not miss my chance. Because my regular meeting was cancelled, I was able to attend a presentation by Casey Hayes, head of our music department.

I did not know of Casey’s research until I heard his presentation, but what he shared did more than inform me. Instead, his research transformed me. Through a research grant from Franklin College, Casey was able to uncover the incredible story of a group of German Jewish actors and musicians who continued to perform when imprisoned in one of the Nazi transit camps. In their audience were Nazi officers, possibly even Adolf Eichmann, as well as fellow prisoners.

What moved me to the core in Casey’s research was the commitment of these artists to their craft. Art literally extended their lives (though most would eventually die in one of the camps). Casey presented documents and musical renditions of the revue show that they performed.

We heard the often cheery songs these artists sang even while they lived in the constant shadow of death. It was obvious from photos and drawings that great care was taken in all facets of the productions. Even the costumes worn by the performers looked professional, yet were made by hand from what the actors could scrape together in the camp.

Casey’s research introduced me to persons whom I never knew existed. Yet, through his research, Casey has brought their courage and artistic commitment back to life. Their creative efforts and voices are heard once again, 75 years later.

Students in the fine arts know the power of music, theater, painting, photography, ceramics and writing to enrich their lives and enrich the lives of others. Truly, creativity is what makes us human. And in the Nazi camps, creativity kept these artists alive and gave fellow prisoners a break from despair.

For those who consider research a dull or laborious pastime of academics or even a waste of time, Hayes’ research will, I hope, dispel that impression. I also hope that Casey will have another chance to present his research to the wider community. His research is an act of respect, love and hope.

Nations that commit genocide believe that those they kill will never be remembered. Research, such as the type conducted by Casey Hayes, brings forgotten people back to life and, in turn, those souls bring us back to life.

David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.