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January 16, 2004 - Image 60

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-01-16

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Celebrating Jewish Spirit

WSU professor who spurred re-staging of epic "The Eternal Road"
speaks about its performance in German city.

Staff Writer


he German city of Chemnitz chose an
unusual way to honor its Jewish citi-
zens killed during the Holocaust as
well as thoseewho had escaped.
In 1999, the city re-staged what has been
called a major 20th-century work, the musical
drama The Eternal Road. This lavish Biblical pag-
eant — with a 135-member cast, a full orchestra
and three choruses — celebrates the spirit of the
Jewish people.
The Eternal Road hasn't been performed since
its first run on Broadway in 1937, when it
opened to much acclaim. Even Catholics were
given special permission by the New York
Archbishop to attend performances during Lent.
The musical drama was written and produced
by leading talents in the world of theater and
music at the time — Kurt Weill, legendary corn-
poser of The Threepenny Opera; Meyer Weisgal,
who later became president of Israel's Weizmann
Institute; Franz Werfel and Max Reinhardt. All
were Jewish; three escaped the Nazis. Through
their work, they hoped to make a counterstate-
ment against Hitler -and- show the indomitable
spirit of Judaism.
Reviving this epic musical has been a driving
passion for Guy Stern of West Bloomfield, a
Wayne State University distinguished professor of
German. As secretary of the Kurt Weill Society in
New York City, Stern pushed for years to have the
society support a production of The Eternal Road.
Though the cost was immense and parts of the
score had to be found and pieced together, Stern's
determination paid off when the people of
Chemnitz stepped forward.
Stern will discuss and show a documentary -
film, The Eternal Road: An Encounter with the
Past, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 18, at the Baldwin
Public Library in Birmingham. The event is spon-
sored by the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic
Studies at WSU in Detroit.
"The film is the result of a remarkable piece of
luck," says Stern, who is the new director of the
Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust
Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, opening
this spring.
The re-staging of The Eternal Road coincided
with the 60-year reunion of Jews from Chemnitz
now living in other countries, he says. One of the


In this scene from the original production of "The Eternal Road," an Egyptian overseer, center, kills a Jewish

survivors was accompanied to the reunion by his
son, Los Angeles filmmaker Ron Frank. While
filming his 'father's reunion, Frank learned about
the revival of the epic musical and began filming
it. He also found rare homemade movies of
Jewish life in Chemnitz before the war that he
includes in the film, along with newsreel footage
of the original production.
Stern, too, has a special relationship to this
As a teacher in the early 1950s at New York
City's Columbia University, Stern began his long
friendship with Kurt Weill's widow, international-
ly known performer Lotte Lenya.
It was pure chutzpah that the young Stern
wrote to Lenya asking for an unpublished letter
written by Weill for a German textbook he and a
friend were writing.

The teachers already had letters in German by
a young Franklin Roosevelt, Mark Twain and
Mozart. But Stern wanted a letter by a modern
composer and went for the best-known German
composer at that time.
Ten days later, a thick packet arrived with
copies of some of the most relevant correspon-
dence between the famous composer and his wife
on the genesis of The Eternal Road, says Stern,
whose friendship with Lenya continued until her
death in 1981.
Stern also has an intimate connection to the
play's story. Born in Germany, he says he was very
adjusted to his German surroundings and heritage
until 1933, with its shocking anti-Jewish out-
breaks. Stern was sent to live with relatives in the
United States and never saw his German family



on page 54





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