“Verdi’s Requiem put all of us into another world. This was not a world with the Nazis. This was our world. […] We just tried to reach something that’s bigger than we are … and let’s hope that we are singing to God, and God can’t help but hear us.”
— Marianka May
Terezín survivor and chorus member
Defiant Requiem, a feature-length documentary film, tells the remarkable story of conductor Rafael Schächter who demonstrated moral leadership in the Terezín ghetto by enriching his fellow prisoners’ souls through great music. His most extraordinary act was to recruit 150 prisoners and teach them Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem by rote using a single score, over multiple rehearsals, and after grueling days of forced labor. They sang the Requiem 16 times for fellow prisoners. Their last, most infamous performance occurred on June 23, 1944 before high-ranking SS officers from Berlin and the International Red Cross. The Germans organized this event as part of a propaganda charade to conceal the reality of life in Terezín and its role in the genocide of Europe’s Jews.
With testimony provided by surviving members of Schächter’s choir, soaring concert footage, cinematic dramatizations, and evocative animation, this unique film explores the singers’ view of the Verdi Requiem as a work of defiance and resistance against the Nazis. The text of the Requiem enabled them, as Schächter told the chorus, to “sing to the Nazis what they could not say to them.”
The Defiant Requiem Foundation collaborated with Partisan Pictures to produce Defiant Requiem. Conceived by Foundation President and Founder, Murry Sidlin, the film was written and directed by Doug Shultz. The Executive Producer is Peter Schnall, founder of Partisan Pictures.
Defiant Requiem was named Best Feature Length Documentary at the Big Apple Film Festival in New York City and was the runner-up for the Audience Award in January 2013 at the Palm Springs Film Festival. In 2014 Defiant Requiem was nominated for two News and Documentary Emmy Awards: Outstanding Historical Documentary Long Form and Outstanding Writing.
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