2020 | Entertainment & Events

Music series will remember genocide of Holocaust

Starting Aug. 11, concerts will feature orchestra, survivor conversations

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Susan Smithers designed the event logo of six butterflies, representing the estimated 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, as well as “hope, transformation and the ephemeral nature of life.”

This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. Aug. 11, 2020, to correct the spelling of Bender JCC of Greater Washington. It was updated again at 1:20 p.m. Aug. 12, 2020, to correct information about an opera singer who will perform.

After H. David Meyers saw the 25th anniversary showing of “Schindler’s List” at Bethesda’s ArcLight cinema, he knew he had to do something to honor the Jewish lives taken by the Holocaust more than seven decades ago.

“I left the theater in tears,” said Meyers, a professional concert oboist and English hornist. “All I could think about was, ‘In memory of 6 million.’”

Using this phrase as inspiration, Meyers started planning a large concert to honor Holocaust victims and survivors. Then, the pandemic struck.

However, COVID-19 hasn’t completely curbed his plans. While the larger concert will wait until 2021, Meyers is producing a series of outdoor “mini-concerts.” These will kick off on Aug. 11.

Meyers has scheduled three mini-concerts in August and expects to have 10 total, running periodically through October.

Meyers, who lives in Montgomery Village, has a long history of producing benefit concerts, for organizations such as the Children’s Hospital and Wounded Warriors.

For the last four years, he has also done quartet accompaniment for the annual local Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Rememberance Day.  

Meyers’ concert series will begin with a performance of the Israeli and American national anthems by opera singer Jacqueline Neimat. The organizers originally thought singer Faith Schneiderman would also perform the anthem for some of the concerts, but only Neimat is currently scheduled.

An orchestra of about 20 musicians will then play alongside a screen showing soundless clips from films focused on the Holocaust or Judaism, such as “Ben Hur,” “Exodus” and “Schindler’s List.”

Ulysses S. James of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic and Dingwall Fleary of The McLean Symphony will alternate conducting the concerts.

Each concert will also include 20 minutes of conversation with Holocaust survivors, who will speak about their experiences. Panels depicting the history of the Holocaust will be set up.

The concerts will be live-streamed on the web.

“We’re very excited, because it gets the musicians looking forward to doing the concert,” Meyers said. “These are a tantalizing appetizer to the big event.”

Certain compositions that will be performed, Meyers said, hold a special significance.

“Four of the pieces we playing are [by] Holocaust victims who wrote the music while they were in the extermination camps,” he said. “Their music speaks for itself.”

The logo for the event, designed by Susan Smithers, is six butterflies. According to the website, the butterflies represent the estimated 6 million Jews who were killed, as well as “hope, transformation and the ephemeral nature of life.”

Smithers’ dad was in the Navy when she was growing up. He was stationed in Nicosia, Cyprus, during the filming of the movie “Exodus,” about the voyage of Jewish refugees after World War II.

“For many of us, in that generation, and on that little island, that was how we first learned about the Holocaust,” she said. “Since that time, I’ve immersed myself.” 

For the event, Smithers compiled a list of hundreds of books, both nonfiction and fiction, for children, teens and adults about the Holocaust. In light of subsequent genocides and mass dehumanization of groups based on race, ethnicity, or religion, Smithers said, action is necessary beyond simple remembrance.

“The Holocaust was such a dark chapter in history,” Smithers said. “Of course, people who lived through it, people who observed and watched helplessly because they could only do so much, vowed that this would never happen again. But the trouble is, the reality is, that it has happened. It did happen again. It has happened again, it will happen again. And that’s the nightmare.”

Meyers added that one of the main goals of the concert series and next year’s larger concert is to educate the public about the horrors of the Holocaust, which is quickly fading from public memory. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, only 45% of Americans knew that approximately 6 million Jews died in the genocide.

“It’s really an awareness campaign that’s designed to go to really millions and millions of people,” Meyers said.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, musicians will be 10 feet apart from one another, and the conductor will be 10 feet from the orchestra. Parking spaces and seats will be distanced, and audience members must bring their own chairs.

The first three concerts will be held in the parking lot of the Bender JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville on Aug. 11, 18 and 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 apiece. Sponsors have secured free tickets for anyone who cannot afford them.

Meyers said that everyone involved in this event is refusing to take any money to participate.

In addition to serving as event organizer, Meyers will also play a violin-oboe solo with concertmaster Wayman McCoy. The solo will occur during the clip from “Schindler’s List.”

“Some of my friends have said — who are really fantastic musicians — the sentence was said to me, ‘Gee, David, I never thought I would ever play again. Thank you for coming up with a wild, crazy idea,’” Meyers said.