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The Mozart Question

The Mozart Question

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Kindertransport The name given to a rescue mission that took place nine months prior to the outbreak of the war. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and the occupied territories of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels and farms. Paolo’s story is powerful for a number of reasons. Firstly, because Paolo has never spoken about it before, a great deal of mystery has built up around ‘The Mozart Question’. Secondly, the reason that Paolo has not spoken of these things before – because he promised not to play Mozart while his father was alive – is very moving and shows the love that can exist between a parent and a child. Finally, there are the remarkable experiences of his parents and Benjamin’s survival against all odds, and the relevance that these continue to have. What motivates Paolo to share his story is his wish to tell the truth; something which should also motivate us to continue to think and learn about the Holocaust. This is especially so given that the Nazis intended that the Holocaust should be a secret and never be remembered. Through the characters in The Mozart Question we come across a variety of different countries, from the West to the East of Europe. Together with the journalist we learn that Paolo’s parents were originally from Warsaw and Venice, and Benjamin from Paris. This geographical spread and the circumstances under which they were brought together remind us that the Holocaust was not an event that occurred in a faraway place, but instead touched many countries and many people across the continent. Such widespread involvement teaches us that the Holocaust was not something that ‘the Germans’ did to ‘the Jews’ in some faraway place; it was rather a European event which presents challenges to all of us regardless of our nationality or religion.

The Holocaust can be defined as the persecution and extermination of around six million Jewish men, women and children. It was not an inevitable occurrence but it did draw on short and longer-term trends in history. Anti-Jewish prejudice had a long history in Europe, but the rise of science in the 18th and 19th centuries saw hostile perceptions about the Jews no longer based just on religion. Instead, new scientific thinking and findings were manipulated to justify hatred of Jews, with the ideas of humans belonging to different races of differing values fighting for survival now used for old prejudices. After the upheaval and bloodshed of World War One, such irrational thoughts became more intense and popular – particularly, but not exclusively, in Germany.

Since it opened in 2018, the Barn, Cirencester has become Michael Morpurgo Central, enjoying an unusually close creative relationship with the former Children’s Laureate. With the pandemic-delayed premiere of a new theatrical version of The Mozart Question, that makes four productions of his work in as many years – but this is the most demanding. Discussing his reasons for writing The Mozart Question Michael Morpurgo said “I wondered how it must have been for a musician who played in such hellish circumstances, who adored Mozart as I do – what thoughts came when playing Mozart later in life? This was the genesis of my story…” He goes on to say: Michael travels all over the UK and abroad talking to children and telling his stories and encouraging them to tell theirs. perished and to remember the events – and new musical creations also appeared. The first of these were created in the Displaced Persons camps at the end of the war, where survivors tried to come to terms with their experiences and loss. Increasingly music became one of a variety of artistic mediums through which both those involved and those removed from the Holocaust tried to respond to its occurrence.

For more information about the work of Farms for City Children, please visit www.farmsforcitychildren.org

Forthcoming performances

They did not know when they stepped forward that they would at once be separated from their families, would have to watch them being herded off towards those hellish chimneys, never to be seen again.’

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