Tolerance Week

Ryan Haskins speaks during "RISE: A Journey of Spiritual Resistance," a Tolerance Week event at the Orpheum Theater Wednesday, April 30, 2104. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal)

Powerful films have come from the horrors of the Holocaust. But nothing conjures the experience better than the words, photographs and music of those who lived through it.

In a moving 90-minute Tolerance Week production Wednesday night, musicians, actors and artists offered a glimpse into life under Adolf Hitler’s dark, dark, shadow.

Called “Rise: A Journey of Spiritual Resistance” the multi-media show sat the Orpheum Theatre started with life in America – an America where Kate Smith proudly warbled “God Bless America” while those storm clouds gathered far across the sea.

In Europe, folks were living in fear. Obedient citizens were arbitrarily killed; children were ripped from their parents.

With Steve Reich’s Grammy-winning “Different Trains” as their soundtrack, photographs and films of Jews suffering at the hands of a dictator captured the hopelessness succinctly.

Sioux City Symphony Orchestra musical director Ryan Haskins told the story, using the words of participants to punctuate the flickering faith in a seemingly godless world. An effective narrator, he smoothly set the scene for the jarring images.

The heartbreaking faces of children forced to sing “happy” music just hours before their deaths resonated.

Then, mezzo soprano Loralee Songer offered a series of songs – including lullabies Ilse Weber sang to frightened children before their deaths. Working with powerful strings, a piano and a clarinet, she didn’t need the visuals. She was able to paint word pictures with crystal notes.

Photographs taken by Sioux Cityan Vernon Tott – called the angel of Ahlem – were among the visuals selected for the performance. They brought the story home even more, providing a ray of promise for the future. Haskins and his writers concluded with a look at the Holocaust memorials that have sprung up in the last 50 years.

The creators, though, might have gone one step further, showing a need for action in other countries where similar atrocities are taking place.

The message from “Rise” wasn’t that this was an isolated incident but something we constantly need to monitor, remember and respond to.

Lighting candles on the stage, the cast passed the responsibility to those attendance.

Powerful stuff.

In the future, the show's presenters might want to expand the visuals, use the theater’s big screen and make the drawings and photos impossible to ignore. Nothing hurts more than a child's drawing of the bleak world around him.

Certainly, this can’t be a one-time-only performance for something so caringly produced.

“Rise” has a future – a bright future – as a constant reminder of a dark time that should never be repeated.

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