Two projects, both with Alice Zawadzki in a leading role, come to fruition in the next few days:
- Yiddish glory: Jewish refugees in Central Asia is a BBC radio programme, based around travels in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan
- “Bag of Bones” is a new work . Alice explains: ” It uses folklore and archetypes to investigate the baggage we all carry, the burden inherited from previous generations. Through the course of four pieces, ceremony and ritual play a very important part. The audience is invited to consider what its own Bag of Bones might be…“
Alice Zawadzki explains the background to Yiddish glory: Jewish refugees in Central Asia (*)
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“Towards the end of 2022, I went on an extraordinary expedition to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan with the BBC, to find out more about a mysterious collection of songs that until just a few years ago, was thought to be lost or destroyed. The songs had in fact been censored and confiscated by the KGB for decades. Many of the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Eastern Europe survived the Holocaust by relocating for a time to Central Asia; whether from being evacuated, as refugees, or indeed from being deported and imprisoned. And it was they who authored these remarkable pieces, which were only rediscovered a few years ago in the National Library of Ukraine. Leading the project was the incredible historian Professor Anna Shternshis from the University of Toronto, who made this initial discovery, with the BBC’s Michael Rossi producing. Dr Zeev Levin kept us linked up with insights and out of trouble, and Munisa Saidova and Gainee Nurkabayeva’s skilful translation and local knowledge were outstanding. The warmth and hospitality of both the Uzbek and Kazakh cultures is hard to describe. I mean it from my heart when I say that it was an immense privilege to take part in this fascinating, culturally important, and deeply moving work. Please tune in and join us on this journey. There were so many precious stories, way more than could fit into an hour programme, but please ask questions if you have them, these voices were silenced for too long…
The programme airs this weekend:
* BBC World Service on Saturday 21 January – LINK
* BBC Radio 3 at 18:45 on Sunday 22nd January –LINK
BBC text: “During World War II, approximately 1.6 million Soviet, Polish and Romanian Jews survived the Holocaust by escaping to Soviet Central Asia and Siberia, avoiding imminent death in ghettos, firing squads and killing centres. Many of them wrote music about these horrors as the Holocaust was unfolding before their eyes. A miraculous discovery in Vernadsky National Library in Kyiv revealed a collection of Yiddish music created during the 1940s that documented their numerous traumas: dangerous train journeys, often in cattle cars; prison sentences, disease, and deep anxieties about family members left behind in Europe. During World War II, these songs were collected by amateur and professional poets, and then organised by the Ukrainian folklorist Moisei Beregovsky. However, the archive was confiscated by the KGB soon after the end of the war. The songs were never performed since, in public or in private.
Singer Alice Zawadzki, whose own family found themselves on a similar journey to Central Asia, and historian Anna Shternshis (University of Toronto), who led the project to bring these songs back to life, travel to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to retrace the journeys of those Jewish refugees who became music composers. From Tashkent and Samarkand to Bukhara and Almaty, they found abandoned factories where refugees worked, saw huts where they slept, met with the descendants of families who welcomed them and children of those survivors themselves who stayed in Central Asia. For the first time in 80 years, the songs created by Jewish refugees during the war were performed in these lands, by local musicians and composers, by children of refugees themselves, and by Alice Zawadzki.”
Background to picture above: The picture was taken in Bulungur, in the Samarqand Region of Uzbekistan, in the house of a local family who showed us incredible hospitality. In Bulungur is the site of an old brick factory where a refugee named Basia Zilberhart, from Vinnitsya, Ukraine, worked. She was 29 when she arrived here during WW2, and a song that she wrote was collected at that very site. In 2022, Professor Anna Shternshis read her lyrics out, in Yiddish, among the rubble of what used to be the factory, returning the song home after some 80 years of censorship. (A.Z.)
(*) Republished from Alice Zawadki’s Facebook page with her permission
Bag of Bones Tour Dates
2 Feb – Bristol – Strange Brew – Book →
3 Feb – Cardiff – Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama – Book →
4 Feb – London – Southbank Centre – Book →
9 Feb – Birkenhead – Future Yard – Book →
10 Feb – Manchester – Royal Northern College of Music – Book →
11 Feb – Leeds – The Warehouse in Holbeck – Book →
LINKS: Bag of Bones at the Manchester Collective website / Bag of Bones is supported by PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Organisations