kaddish, i am here, songs of mourning and celebration

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About Kaddish  •  Composer Notes

KADDISH, libretto and music by Lawrence Siegel
Notes by the composer

The words and music to KADDISH are copyright 2008 by Lawrence Siegel. All rights, including publication, are reserved to the author. Permission to quote from the Libretto is contingent upon obtaining written permission of the author and upon crediting: Text Copyright 2008 by Lawrence Siegel. Used by permission of the author.

Kaddish is a cycle of fifteen original songs for chorus, soloists, and chamber or symphony orchestra. The libretto for KADDISH is fashioned almost entirely from testimonies of survivors, primarily first-hand interviews conducted over several years. Because of the verbatim use of testimony, the messages are an authentic reading of the feelings and thoughts of some of the survivors of the Holocaust.

The fifteen movements of Kaddish are grouped into three sections.
  1. The World Before
    1. Where We Came From
    2. Like Cherries in the Winter
    3. My Father Bought Me a Horse
    4. Hate Me Till Tuesday
    5. Mutter Erd
  2. The Holocaust
    1. My Daughter's Name
    2. Himmler's Aria: Decent Fellows
    3. Arrival at Auschwitz
    4. What a Beautiful Place You Have Here
    5. Burden You Cannot Share
    6. Is My Voice Too Loud?
  3. Tikkun Olam
    1. Litany
    2. Kaddish Prayer
    3. Nothing is as Whole as a Heart which has been Broken
    4. So Here I Am

  4. The piece begins with "The World Before," reflections of life in central Europe before the Holocaust. These suggest a diverse range of social experiences: urban and rural, rich and poor, secular and religious, while at the same time reflecting a common cultural identity in the Jewish fabric of their everyday lives.
    Maybe I did not have certain things,
    Like cherries in the winter...
    My father was a learned man.
    We celebrated all the holidays.
    My mother cooked -
    The aroma of the wonderful baking of challah,
    And everything:
    It was a very nice life.

    Now my father explains to me:
    While the material things they can take away from you,
    What goes into your head will stay with you until your grave.
    Nobody can take away from you.

    At that little town where I was born,
    I had little gentile friends,
    Who were my friends
    Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
    Sunday they went to church and Sunday afternoon
    They would beat the hell out of me.
    And hate me till Tuesday.
    And Tuesday they would again become my friends.
    The second part of KADDISH tells personal stories of actual events which took place during the Holocaust: only a few of the vast number of unimaginably horrible stories from the ghettos, the trains, the camps. There is a reflection on the unique, hardened in the fire quality of the survivors who emerged from the Holocaust.
    I had a little sister, five years younger than myself.
    Her name was Raisha.
    My daughter's name is Raisha...

    My little sister was 8 years old.
    A German officer came, he tore her away from my mother
    And he pushed her to the left side of the field.

    And it's becoming kind of more lingering
    As I get older.
    I keep on thinking, of myself:
    What would I do if these were my children?

    I remember the opening of the doors,
    It was loud and fast and the whole tone had changed.
    Get out!
    Form lines!
    And the smell...
    Prisoners coming up and yelling
    Get out!
    Form lines!
    Form lines!
    Get in line!
    And we all got in line.

    Most of you must know what it means when one hundred corpses are Lying side by side,
    Or five hundred or one thousand.
    To have stuck it out and at the same time,
    Apart from exceptions caused by human weakness,
    To have remained decent fellows:
    That is what has made us hard.

    Five year my daughter,
    A year I have my son.
    They were gone.
    Ukrainen was in the house, and he say:
    This is not yours.
    And I don't go in there.

    It's a burden you cannot share
    It can't be told.
    If you would want to listen to it,
    I'll tell you some
    And from what I tell you,
    You tell me you heard it,
    You understood it, You accept it,
    You have no more questions to ask,
    I know you haven't understood.

    By the waters of Babylon,
    On the steppes of Ukraine,
    I have cried,
    I have cried.
    But not for one moment
    Do I think of what happened to me,
    I can only see
    The faces of the people that died in front of me.
    Is my voice too loud?
    You think, not of the tragedy,
    That they died,
    You think of the tragedy,
    How they died,
    What they suffered before they died.
    Is my voice too loud?
    The third and closing section of KADDISH begins with "Litany," a kind of roll call of a very small number of the dead - a list which nonetheless goes on for some time. There follows a setting of the words of the Mourners' Kaddish itself, sung for these and all victims of genocide. The piece concludes with some reflections on what it has all come to, for survivors. The final words of KADDISH serve as an emblem of the resilience and determination of the survivors to carry on their lives and in some way the lives of those who perished, by living fully, in families, by raising children. To this day, for many people, these simple things can never be taken for granted. Thus dailiness, ordinariness, the simple ability to have a normal life, to raise children, is, finally, the great blessing of the survivors.
    It was a lesson that must be forgotten,
    It hurt me more to hate than to love.
    I had to reach into my heart, my mind,
    I had a long life ahead of me...

    And we came to the gate, where it says
    "Arbeit Macht Frei."
    (It's still there.)
    And to the posts of the Germans, they were still standing there.
    And I just went through the gate.
    And my whole family was outside the gate.
    I thought to myself, My goodness!
    I am here!
    I survived,
    And look who is with me!
    And when, at the end, the chorus, too, sings "I am here!" they are meant to be heard as the Great Company of Souls, singing back to us. It is small consolation, perhaps, to imagine this great company joining us in harmony as we cherish them and remember them. But it is something that, perhaps, helps us carry their lives on our backs as we try in our various ways to repair the world.

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