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New opera tells story of Auschwitz prisoner and her SS overseer

July 6, 2014 at 12:36 PM EDT
"The Passenger," an opera opening at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York on Thursday, is based on a radio play and novel by a concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. The opera tells the story of two women during the Holocaust: a prisoner at Auschwitz, and her SS overseer.
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TRANSCRIPT

JOHN LARSON: An opera that is opening at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York on Thursday had its U.S. premiere at the Houston Grand Opera in Texas this past January, where our sister station, Houston Public Media, spoke with some of the people involved in the production.

It’s called “The Passenger,” and it’s based on a radio play and novel of the same name by a concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. The opera tells the story of two women during the Holocaust.

OPERA SINGER: Today is my birthday!

JOHN LARSON: One, a prisoner at Auschwitz, and the other, her SS overseer.

PATRICK SUMMERS: It’s interesting that Zofia Posmysz, herself, said when she first heard the opera that she didn’t think anyone could ever capture the experience of what, not a day in Auschwitz was like, but what 15 minutes in Auschwitz was like. She said you didn’t try to think about surviving for a day. You tried to think about how to get through the next 15 minutes.

DAVID POUNTEY: The fact that what you’re witnessing is a human story about two young girls, and these girls should have met in a university canteen and squabbled about a boyfriend and helped one another with their essay, but this university is called Auschwitz and one is on one side of the line and the other’s on the other, even this hell is a human story. It’s a story about human beings.

OPERA SINGER: I cannot bear this separation. I dream constantly of you.

PATRICK SUMMERS: It doesn’t ask us to tell each other why or how could this happen. All it asks of us is that we remember that this happened. One question. One—one thing. One demand. Remember.