songs of hope

Award-winning Czech-Canadian singer and songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg was suffering from the effects of her mother in 2016 in Prague when she made a startling discovery. She found two small notebooks that had belonged to her artist grandmother, Anna Hana Friesova (1901-1987). Inside each notebook, small enough to fit in a back pocket, were poems written while she was imprisoned in the Terazin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp during World War II.

Lichtenberg, who was born in Prague but moved to Canada in the 1980s, decided to record the poems for “a musical project spanning eight decades and three generations.” The result is Dream Thieves: Songs of the Secret Poet of Theresienstadt, Anna Hana Friesova 1901-1987 (Six Degrees), a haunting set of musical gems.

The singer, cantor and chazanit as well as folk singer, has released eight studio albums, including Songs for the walls that breathe, which won him a Canadian Folk Music Award in 2012; she sings in six languages ​​(Czech, English, French, Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish). She is well known for working to rebuild Jewish life in the Czech Republic.

She commissioned seven female Czech and Canadian composers to create a diverse musical soundscape for the songs so that each one’s music moved seamlessly between string quartet, beatbox, spoken word and Central European jazz grooves. .

In the liner notes, Lichtenberg mentions that his mother wrote about her experiences at Terazin in a 1996 book, Fortress of my youth but other than that, neither her grandmother nor her mother spoke of the hellish experience they had been through. Maybe they were too busy living to talk about the dead they saw. Indeed, what is striking about the poems is that they are mostly about the dreams and fantasies of Friesova’s life at that time. The poems formed a world in which she could escape and dream.

Only one song really deals with the awful pain of knowing that tomorrow your loved one is gone. In It was a cold twilight, my love, the poet describes the last moment she spends with her husband, although no name is given. It is clear what she is talking about. Her husband, Richard, Lichtenberg’s grandfather, had managed to find work in the camp bakery but was eventually sent to a gas chamber at Auschwitz. The lyrics are so sad: “It was a cold twilight, my love / When we said our goodbyes / With an aching hand / And a dead word / With our last tear, final darkness fell / And good could not not see our faces / The end fell in our eyes like a stone on a mirror / Only the wind wanted to know what was going on”.

There are several other love songs that offer hope, such as Jhen, miracles could still happenwhile my lonely paradise constructs an imaginary world in which she could escape. And then there’s the album’s masterpiece, I have my own sorrow, which features a recording of Lichtenberg’s mother, Jana Renee Friesova, recounting how they were driven from their homes and transported from a place of happiness to a place of death, and her grandmother’s poem which she sings , thus bringing together in a single song, the three generations. I found this song moving. And the poet’s feelings about the betrayal his family felt are succinctly rendered in anger but ultimately hope, I wanted to curse you, Bitter Land.

In the liner notes, Lichtenberg dedicates the Thieves of Dreams to his grandmother (“the secret poetess of Terazin”) and his mother, and to the 6 million people who “were murdered and never got to share their stories with the world”.

In the last stanza of Don’t ask me, my love, the secret poetess has these salutary words to say: “Don’t ask me, my love: ‘How do you feel?’ / To that I have my own answer: / That such a question does not come from a killer , but who heals”.

A song from the album, Wait at the end of the aisle, was uploaded to YouTube, along with English translations of the lyrics. Many thanks to Dan Rosenberg for the information and a copy of the album, which is available from the usual online sources. More information at and

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Grace D. Erickson