Holocaust-inspired ‘Defiant Requiem’ brings its hopeful message to San Diego


Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Murry Sidlin’s path changed when he picked up a book at a Minneapolis bookstore.

“Music at Terezín” told the story of Rafael Schächter, a prisoner at the Terezín concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Though imprisoned, Schächter taught about 150 of his fellow prisoners to sing Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem” and led them in several performances at the camp.

The story is the inspiration behind Sidlin’s “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín,” a multimedia concert-drama that makes its San Diego debut May 7 at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center. From Israel to Germany, the piece has been performed around the world, including in Terezín.

“I thought that this was a very, very significant Holocaust story,” said Sidlin. “I wanted to bring it to light.”

In the two decades since Sidlin picked up the book, he has conducted nearly three dozen performances of “Defiant Requiem,” which blends Verdi’s music with video testimonies from surviving members of the original Terezín chorus, actors embedded in the orchestra, and original Nazi propaganda film footage made at the camp.

The concert-drama has been featured at the Kennedy Center in D.C., Lincoln Center in New York City and Symphony Hall in Atlanta. It has also been performed in Jerusalem, Budapest, Prague, Terezín and most recently in Berlin.

Thanks to the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, “Defiant Requiem” is coming to San Diego. Conducted by Sidlin, the concert-drama will feature the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and Master Chorale.

“The concert-drama has been done at some of the finest institutions,” said event chair Caryn Viterbi. “We’re very excited, and the ADL is very proud to be able to bring a performance of this quality in nature to a large San Diego audience.”

For months, Viterbi planned the event with her late mother-in-law, Erna Viterbi. The longtime Rancho Santa Fe philanthropist, who survived the Nazi invasion of the former Yugoslavia, died Feb. 17 at the age of 81.

“My mother-in-law was an incredible woman of great compassion,” said Viterbi, a former Del Mar resident who now lives on the border of Carmel Valley and Rancho Santa Fe. “For her, this wasn’t just a Holocaust story. It was a lesson for all humanity — so we would remember and learn that hatred and bigotry should never be our guide, and that silence is never an option in the face of suffering.”

Like her late mother-in-law, Viterbi is also very involved in the community. She serves as a board member of the San Diego chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and sits on the board’s executive committee.

Founded in 1913, the Anti-Defamation League is an international organization that aims to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defend democratic ideals and protect civil rights for all. The San Diego regional office has served San Diego and Imperial counties since 1978.

“People don’t know the story of Terezín,” Sidlin said. “The responsibility of getting people interested in this story and getting them enthusiastic made me go further with it.

“These incredible prisoners of Terezín would not take this lying down. They insisted on performing, on lecturing, on teaching — continuing human development and responding to the worst of mankind with the best of mankind.”

About 2,200 people are expected to attend “Defiant Requiem” May 7 at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St. in San Diego.

The event starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $30-$175.

All ticket sales, sponsorships and funds raised for the event will benefit ADL San Diego’s Endowment Fund, Lessons from the Holocaust: Changing Hearts and Minds.

“I hope people will come for a very meaningful and inspiring performance, knowing that the proceeds will ensure that future generations will be educated to understand the dangers of hate and prejudice,” Viterbi said. “It’s an opportunity to hear the voices of our past and reflect on lessons for our future.”

For information or to purchase tickets, call 858-565-6896, email defiantrequiem@adl.org or visit sandiego.adl.org/event/defiantrequiem.