Today is the 90th birthday of Zofia Posmysz, author of The Passenger, which provided the impetus for Weinberg's celebrated opera of the same name. I wish her many happy returns, and many more years in which to continue the inspiring work that has made her famous.
A tireless writer and campaigner about Holocaust commemoration and education, Posmysz's contribution to the field will be celebrated at a ceremony by the International Auschwitz Committee (more details here).
Here is an excerpt from my post about Posmysz and The Passenger:
"The story of 'The Passenger' started several years before Weinberg even encountered it, however, and to tell the tale of its conception, we must focus on a Polish author, Zofia Posmysz.
Zofia Posmysz camp photograph, Auschwitz.
Posmysz was 18 years old when she was arrested by the Nazi gestapo for accompanying an individual who was distributing political leaflets. She was sent to Auschwitz camp, where we was imprisoned for three years. During that time, she was witness to immeasurable cruelty and despair, but she also found hope. A young Polish officer by the name of Tadeusz risked his life to make her a medallion featuring Christ on the cross, a medallion which Posmysz wears to this day. During her incarceration, she nearly died from Typhoid, but she recovered and survived Auschwitz.
An incident in 1962 vividly returned her to life in the camp–and directly inspired the scenario that would go on to become 'The Passenger'. While visiting the Champs-Elysées in Paris, she overheard a group of German Tourists:
Suddenly I heard a voice. It was remarkably like the voice of our guard Frau Franz. Her voice always sounded so shrill… And now I could hear the same screams in the Place de la Concorde. I thought: ‘My God, it’s our prison guard!’ I looked in every direction and tried to find her but of course it wasn’t her. Even so, my heart missed a beat. And I thought: ‘If it had been her, what would I have done?’
Posmsyz confronted her past, and wrote a radio play in 1959 called 'Passenger from cabin 45'. By 1962, this had expanded into a book, ' Pasażerka'."
For further reading, see these links:
Jessica Duchen interview with Posmysz
Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 'Memories of music at Auschwitz'