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Children’s Holocaust story will be performed in Windsor

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Brundibar was first performed at Theresienstadt, the Nazi
Brundibar was first performed at Theresienstadt, the Nazi "model camp"

Windsor’s Jewish community has teamed up with a local musical group to retell a charming yet poignant children’s Holocaust story that they will be taking to this year’s world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Brundibar, A Children’s Opera by Hans Krása, tells the story of Aniqa and Pepicek, brother and sister, who need to buy milk for their mother who is sick. But when they venture into the marketplace, their efforts at busking are thwarted by an organ grinder, Brundibar (Czech for bumblebee).

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But soon other children, aided by animals such as a dog, cat and sparrow, come to the siblings’ rescue and help them defeat the mean organ grinder.

The opera was first performed in a Jewish orphanage in occupied Prague during World War II. It was reprised many times at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, where the composer, the original cast of children, and the set designer, all found themselves as prisoners. Theresienstadt was the model camp where the Nazis brought Red Cross inspectors to show how well they treated the inmates.

But after a final performance before those Red Cross officials, the entire cast was shipped to Auschwitz, where they died.

The Windsor performances are expected to appeal to children and adults alike.

For children, Brundibar is a “unique and interesting way” to address the Holocaust, and “which is not a depressing production by any means,” says director Tracey Atin, a cantor at the city’s Congregation Beth El and founder of Windsor’s popular Korda Artistic Productions theatre company.

“It’s really lighthearted and charming and happy – the opera itself – and very accessible,” she said. “It’s just an interesting gateway into the study of the Holocaust.”

The play also addresses contemporary issues like bullying. Aniqa and Pepicek, for example, end up getting help from others and “suddenly they’re a force to be reckoned with and they have a way of dealing with the bully,” Atin said.

The children in the production are between six to 14 years old and come from a group called Music Moves Kids (MMK), an area arts company that teaches singing and has a children’s choir.

Brundibar will be performed 10 times for school children – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – who will be bussed in from throughout the greater Windsor area.

There will be one public performance April 7 at 7.30 p.m. All performances are at the Windsor Jewish Community Centre.

Both Atin and MMK music director Erin Armstrong are sopranos. During the public performance they will be singing additional works from I Never Saw Another Butterfly with clarinetist and University of Windsor Music School director Trevor Pittman, and some Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino arias.

A soprano duet of Leo Delibes’ famous Flower Duet from Lakmé, will also be performed by Armstrong and gifted young soprano Will Trigo Ebere.

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The production is coupled with a museum exhibit also at the community centre that focuses on the Kinder Transport program which saw thousands of European Jewish children transported to safety in Great Britain for the duration of the war.

Exhibit pieces come from the Holocaust Memorial Centre in West Bloomfield, Mich. and from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.