Last week, at the invitation of International March of the Living (MOTL), I traveled to Poland to perform at the Holocaust memorial ceremony, held in Auschwitz-Birkenau. In addition to playing at the Auschwitz ceremony, I performed at a concert honoring the liberators who were the first to enter concentration camps and discover Nazi atrocities. I also visited sites around Poland, including the mass graves near Tykocin and the Treblinka concentration camp. As I flew back to the USA, I found that I was at a loss for words. Without a doubt, this was one of the most profoundly moving weeks of my life, yet at the same time I didn’t quite know what to say.
Tykocin is a small village in northeastern Poland. Around the time of WWII it was inhabited by 1800 Jewish residents. Over the course of two days, as the Nazis came in, nearly all the residents of this village were taken to the nearby forest and executed in waves. Three pits were dug and the residents were forced to stand in them as they were shot one group at a time, each standing upon the bodies of the previously shot group. The Treblinka concentration camp was responsible for the death of over 800,000 Jews. This camp was designed to execute thousands within hours of arrival. Mass graves and several cremation pits, one of which survives today, were used to dispose of the dead bodies.
Upon visiting each of these sites and hearing details of the indescribable subhuman perversity shown by the Nazis, I would find myself go through the same pattern of thought and emotion: shock, a passionate anger and frankly, hate, sadness, and grief.
And then suddenly, on the day of the Yom Hashoah ceremony at Auschwitz, I began to experience hope. In preparation for the ceremony I arrived early and walked the length of the overwhelmingly enormous field at the Bierkenau death camp to get to a makeshift stage at the other end. An eerie silence filled the space as I quietly walked by myself. After a week of seeing the remnants of Holocaust atrocities first-hand, I was beset by sadness and confusion. After warming up, I stood off in the wings getting ready to open the Yom Hashoah ceremony with music. As I waited, I suddenly saw the first of over 10,000 people start marching onto the field of Birkenau; many of them young, together with Holocaust survivors, veterans, VIP’s, Jews, and non-Jews all walking arm in arm down the same path countless numbers walked to their deaths. This was hope in physical form – the future, understanding, love, and a commitment to good. Inspired, I went out on stage.
As at Auschwitz, both at Tykocin and Treblinka, I pulled out my violin and played. At Tykocin I stood by one of the mass graves and played Ravel’s Kaddish (click here to watch the performance). At Treblinka, I stood by the remaining cremation pit and played Kol Nidre at the site were so many were turned to ash. The sound of music cutting through the quiet, hallowed silence said more than I could ever express with words. What is there to say? These horrific events happened, and they will forever be burned into our history. All we can do now is always remember what happened and work together to make sure such evil and hate never shows its face again. Never again.
Hailed for his dazzling command of the violin and its repertoire, as well as a communicative immediacy that harkens back to the legendary Romantic masters, Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik has become a highly sought-after artist on the concert stage worldwide.