Read The Holocaust Opera Online

Authors: Mark Edward Hall

Tags: #Opera, #Holocaust, #evil, #Paranormal, #Music, #Mengele, #Mark Edward Hall, #Nazi Germany

The Holocaust Opera

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The Holocaust Opera

Mark Edward Hall

Damnation Books, LLC.
P.O. Box 3931
Santa Rosa, CA 95402-9998

The Holocaust Opera
by Mark Edward Hall

Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-333-1

Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-334-8

Cover art by: Neil Jackson
Edited by: Lisa Jackson

Copyright 2011 Mark Edward Hall

Printed in the United States of America
Worldwide Electronic & Digital Rights
1st North American and UK Print Rights

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any form, including digital and electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Publisher, except for brief quotes for use in reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

To Sheila,
who feels the magic as much as I do

Invisible Toothpicks:

An Introduction to The Holocaust Opera

By Vince A. Liaguno

Music and horror have always shared a symbiotic relationship. Think of a scary movie and, inevitably, some ominous snippet of soundtrack accompanies the memory. Try and imagine
and not hear the synthesized notes of John Carpenter’s score, or
The Exorcist
without Mike Oldfield’s
Tubular Bells
. Or the menacing chords of composer John Williams’ two-note title theme to
or the screeching violins of Bernard Herrmann’s
score that ushered in Janet Leigh’s showery demise. Music is an essential element to the horror experience, helping to create mood, enhance atmosphere, and foreshadow the imminent terror lurking around every dark corner. It’s as fundamental a sound to horror as the scream itself.

But while we’re intimately familiar with music as an accoutrement to horror, what about music as the source of horror itself – the composition of harmony and melody as a catalyst for terror?

In the novella you’re about the delve into, Mark Edward Hall tunes his instrument – in this case a blood-tipped pen – and launches into a haunting melody of words to give voice to one of the greatest real-life horrors in history: The Holocaust.

Sixty years after the
– the mobile killing units known as
death squads
– went on their first routine mass killing mission in Lithuania during the summer of 1941, we struggle to assign depth and dimension to the horrors of the Holocaust. In
The Holocaust Opera
and its juxtaposition between the beauty of the story’s titular musical composition and the abject ugliness of the colossal failure of humanity that resulted in the extermination of six million people at the hands of a madman and his followers, Hall uses the defined parameters of music composition to frame his story and bring shape to the horror.

All so that we may see.

Like the best genre fiction,
The Holocaust Opera
illuminates that which hides in the darkness – the darkness of history, the darkness of human betrayal, the darkness of our own reluctance to face what is, for many, unbearable. It’s not pleasant to
what the darkness hides, not pleasant to loosen a few of those tightly-woven knots that keep our comfort level safely moored. But Hall isn’t really bothered by our level of discomfort – in fact, he flips the reader a solemn middle finger with
The Holocaust Opera
. Good storytelling isn’t about maintaining arbitrary comfort levels, but rather flying in the face of them. Good fiction – good genre fiction, in particular – peels back the painful scabs of healing wounds and forces us to face the raw tissue underneath.

Last November, in anticipation of writing this introductory note you now read, I traveled to Washington D.C. to tour the National Holocaust Museum. Call it my wanting to put a face to a name or whatever motive you’d like to assign to such an action, but, fact is I did it. And the experience was horrible.

Just as it should have been.

As I cast my eyes upon image upon image of unimaginable human suffering, there cataloged and organized by chronological atrocity, I experienced myriad emotions and sensations, from outrage and disgust to sadness and shame at being part of a race of beings whose cruelty and depravity know no limits, whose capacity for evil seems boundless. But the strongest emotion I felt was fear – overpowering, blood-curdling fear. Fear of the knowledge that the atrocities of the Holocaust occurred during civilized times, nary sixty years ago. An event that took place while my own father was a young boy of twelve sneaking into movie matinees and discovering his pre-adolescent love of the New York Yankees and a pretty little songbird named Connie Francis.

For me, that was the
horror of what I saw in the museum that day; that something so fundamentally evil could happen right under the noses of industrialized nations, many of which stood idly by while men were separated from their wives, children taken, crying, from their parents. Human apathy emerged for me as the greatest horror of the Holocaust.

“That’s the trouble with this world,”
Jeremiah Gideon – Hall’s madman-or-maestro composer of the fictional music piece at the center of
The Holocaust Opera
– observes.
“People try too hard to forget. They believe that forgetting is healing. It’s a mistake, I tell you. We must always
. Remembering is healing. If we forget, then we’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”

And indeed we have. One only needs to look at the more recent ethnic cleansings in regions like Bosnia and Darfur to realize that the possibility for mass apathetic denial is less a fear and more a sad, quiet reality. With society’s emphasis on blocking out anything unpleasant from our peripheries, there is an entire school of thought out there that finds teaching about the Holocaust in schools too morbid, while others outright deny the extinction of millions of Jews – a mindset that ‘s inexplicable and culturally irresponsible when one considers the physical and photographic evidence, the eyewitness accounts. It’s that same aversion to the unthinkable that’s kept us more focused on “reality” TV and reduced images of mass graves in Bosnia and reports of gang rapes in Darfur to background noise in our collective consciousness.

Perhaps it’s in his recognition of the enduring tragedy of public indifference that served as Hall’s catalyst for
The Holocaust Opera
– a story in which a young singer named Roxanne Templeton is drawn to a piece of music whose chords and melodies are so unfathomably strong that she
ignore, cannot relegate the disturbing images it conjures to the back of her mind. Through the work of fiction you’re about to read, Hall imagines a world in which evil cannot be ignored and human suffering cannot be snubbed by changing a channel. He forces his characters to confront the atrocities of human cruelty through eyelids being held open with invisible toothpicks – in this case, a haunting musical opus. Even when his characters want to shutter away the horror, they can’t. This seems to be his message for humankind: You can’t blink away the horror.

Despite its dominant horror elements, at the heart of
The Holocaust Opera
is a message of hope. After all, as Hall’s protagonist philosophizes,
“the human spirit is not capable of existence without hope.”
So, even while we’re bearing historical witness to the continued blind eye of the collective, there is always hope – ever-present and sustainable even in the worst of circumstances as demonstrated by the survivors of genocide and other unspeakable human atrocities.

So permit Hall permission to prop your eyelids open with the invisible toothpicks of this haunting little tale. Let the rhythm of his prose pulse beneath your skin; allow the melody of his narrative to carry you along that great continuum between horror and hope. For it’s in living through the horror and reaching for the hope that we uncover the truth of the human spirit in all its ugliness and beauty.

Vince A. Liaguno

Long Island, New York

January 12, 2011

The Holocaust Opera

“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?”

(Jeremiah: Lamentations 1:12)

“The Magic’s in the music and the music’s in me.”

–John Sebastian

I sensed the moment I met Jeremiah Gideon that my life had been altered in some incontrovertible way. I ignored that sense. I stepped into his world willingly. He was an enigma, the most gifted talent I had ever encountered, and I was in awe of him.

I was a singer back then, raised in a small Iowa city. I came to New York chasing a dream. It was the first time I had been out from under the sheltering wings of my wonderfully-wise parents. I sought stardom, and I had their fond blessing to help guide me. When I look back on it now, I can see just how naïve I was. Dear God, if only I could have seen the future.

My parents were from the Beat generation. Their bible had been,
On the Road,
by Jack Kerouac. For them, it had been a time of free love and following one’s heart. They wanted me to experience life as they had. They wished me only happiness and had always encouraged me to follow my dreams. So I did.

I had been singing since the age of three, at first hamming it up for my family, then church choir, later glee club, and when I was fourteen, I formed my first band. I called it Leather & Lace, after the Stevie Nicks song. We stayed together for five years. We were popular in and around my hometown, but that was it, and it didn’t last. There was nothing original about our sound, and when I finally woke up one day and admitted to myself that we were never going anywhere, I bailed out. Two of the guys in the band were married with families and couldn’t just pack up and leave everything, and the drummer, a girl, wanted to be my lover. She was a sweet kid, but I wasn’t interested. I liked guys.

I was good and knew it. Fate had blessed me with a soprano’s voice and a full four-octave range. I had been telling people for years that I was destined to be a star. I don’t think anybody ever doubted me.

So, I came to New York, a green twenty-one-year-old. It was springtime and the city enchanted me. Everything about it looked, sounded, and smelled like success, and I was more excited than ever before in my life. I hadn’t come from a wealthy family and I had very little to start me on my way. I came in a clunky old Chrysler mini-van, two suitcases filled to the brim with the remnants of my life, an old Gibson guitar, and my dreams.

I had been in town only two days when Jeremiah’s and my path crossed. I can’t tell you it was destiny because I don’t know about such things.

I was out searching for a cheap apartment. A joke, right? In New York? I was somewhere in the East Village, an old residential area near Avenue A and Bond. The streets were lined with stately brownstones; homes that had once been symbols of New York’s old-style elegance. During the 19th century, millionaires like the Astors and Vanderbilts had built homes here, but the waves of Irish, German, Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian immigrants who flooded into New York City in the 1900’s soon displaced the elite, who moved uptown. Now, the buildings were decrepit and rundown, their vacant eye-like windows blackened with soot that seemed to completely seal off the outside world from whatever secrets lay within.

I knew from what my parents had told me that the area had been home to the Beat generation of the 1950s, the hippies of the 1960s, and the punks of the late 1970s and 1980s. Today, it’s still a young person’s neighborhood, with its experimental music clubs and theaters and cutting-edge fashion. So, of course, that’s the section of the city I was drawn to. I did a lot of walking in those first few days. I could have driven, but I didn’t. I wanted a real feel for New York, and walking was very liberating, and educational. I let my feet lead the way, and that’s where they took me.

I expected a bustling neighborhood, but that’s not what I found. Instead, I discovered a stark, nearly forsaken place, a shadow world; a quiet village that existed, tenuously at best, within the confines of the greatest city on Earth. There were few cars parked on the deserted wind-swept streets and even fewer pedestrians walking its sullen sidewalks. The people I did encounter, faceless, all of them, walked briskly, heads down, collars of windbreakers turned up against the biting late-march chill, hats pulled down over unseen eyes. Like vampires scurrying from sunlight’s dark promise.

Somewhere near East-80th and Willow I began to slow my pace, for it was there that a feeling of melancholy seized me. I sensed more than heard music, soft and poignant, haunting, as though it was coming from the depths of my own romantic soul. I stopped, looking around for its source. It seemed to be coming from everywhere all at once, a permeation of soulful melancholy. How could such beauty exist? I wondered. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was the sound of angels weeping. The melody was gorgeous, with a counterpoint that was oddly foreign, yet strangely familiar, so lush that I wanted to both laugh and weep. I had been transported to a world of dreams.

I soon located the music’s source. It was coming from one of the brownstones. I stood there for a long time in front of that building, unable to move, staring mutely toward that sound as though I’d been hypnotized. Finally, I went to my knees in front of a grimy basement window. I used the sleeve of my blouse to wipe at the glass and I peered in. I felt no shame, no embarrassment; only enchantment.

Back to me, at a piano in a small, neatly kept flat, sat a young man with long dark-brown hair. I could not see his face, but somehow I knew that it would be as haunting as his music. He would play some of the melody and counterpoint and then he would write notes on a lead sheet. It seemed he was composing. I can’t begin to describe the complex emotions that stirred inside me as I watched, nor can I tell you how long I knelt there. I was lost in an imaginary dreamworld, a virtual haze of delirium. I fancied myself a young Billy Holiday, standing on stage in a small smoky cellar singing those gorgeously poignant melodies.

“What’r yer doin’ there, girly?”

The voice startled me back to reality. I twisted around in a panic and struggled to my feet. My legs were aching and my knees felt raw from kneeling on the rough sidewalk.

I stood blinking in surprise. Before me stood a bag lady with piercing eyes and a twisted gray mouth. She was very thin. Her deeply-lined sallow face was streaked with grime, and her sharp blue eyes had sunk abysmally into the bony architecture of her small skull where bruise-colored indentations lined them. Her outfit consisted of a dirty brown buttonless overcoat, an oil-streaked printed polyester blouse and a pair of oversized black men’s trousers tied around the waist with a frayed electrical cord. On her head, she wore a green felt cap that was so full of rips and holes it could have been salvaged from the maw of some crazed animal. Beneath the cap, her gray straw-like hair hung untidily around her stooped shoulders.

“Well?” she demanded.

I stammered some idiotic reply. Even now I’m not sure what it was.

“Stop babbling, fool! I asked you what yer doin’ there.”

I was still blinking, bewildered, when I found my voice, or rather this squeaky little voice that I didn’t recognize as my own. “I...I was...ah...I was just listening to the music,” I said, stuttering like a little fool, ashamed, afraid that I had violated some sacred trust.

“Lovely, ain’t it,” she said, picking at a rotten tooth with a grubby fingernail. Her voice was grainy and scratched, as though her interior mirrored the visible, outward part of her.

“Yes,” I said breathlessly, and gratefully relieved that I was not going to be scolded for my shameful eavesdropping. “It’s the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. Please, do you know who he is?”

The bag lady’s sharp, sunken eyes drew down on me, leaving me decidedly uncomfortable in their grasp. She grunted and threw her head back, laughing heartily. “You don’t know, do you, girly?”

“Know what?” I replied. If there was a joke here I certainly didn’t get it. “I’m from out of town,” I explained.

“Yes, girly,” she said in a small, ironic whisper. “Yes, you are.” She looked me up and down, an expression of complete and unqualified contempt on her seamed face. “Believe me, you don’t want to know him. If I were you, I’d walk on down that street and forget you ever heard that music.”

At the thought of doing what the lady had suggested, I felt a sudden aching loss inside of me. It was as if the universe I had imagined while absorbing those lush melodies had begun to crumble to dust at my feet. I could no more have walked away than I could have put a gun to my own head and pulled the trigger, and the bag lady knew it. She shook her head ruefully and emitted a disgruntled-sounding little squawk. “Who is he?” I demanded, this time without shame, without reservation.

“A troubled soul,” the woman replied, now with a slight hint of resignation in her voice. “A troubled soul who writes troubled music. His name is Gideon, Jeremiah Gideon. That’s all he does, you know, sit at that piano and compose those haunted melodies.”

“He’s incredible,” I said. “Do you know him?”

“No!” the bag lady barked. “He’s not a very sociable soul; but most everybody on these streets knows
him.” She looked sharply at me. “We all have ears, you know!”

“His music seems so filled with passion...but somehow sad,” I said, my mind ushering in visions of everlasting love turned tragic. Of loneliness, heartache, despair.

The bag lady gave me a sour look. “You’re a romantic little fool,” she opined. “Could get you in trouble.”

I could only look at her, unable or unwilling to take issue.

She snorted at my non-reaction. “Rumor has it he’s writing some sort of modern saga based on the experiences of his ancestors.”

“That sounds wonderful,” I said in reply.

The woman looked at me as though I’d said something obscene. “Don’t be such a little twit,” she scolded. “They were in the holocaust. His grandparents were exterminated. His parents managed to escape...barely with their sanity. Now they’re
gone. The boy’s alone, wracked with pain and grief. Can’t you hear it in that music?”

My hand went to my mouth to stifle a gasp. Of course I could hear it. That’s what the emotion was about, sorrow and grief, not passionate love turned tragic as I’d first imagined. The lady was right. I
a little fool. “Oh, my,” I said shocked. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t, girly. Now you do.” Her piercing blue eyes stared at me from the depths of that seamed face. “Rumor also has it that if you listen to that music long enough you’ll become infected with its message of despair and that eventually you’ll go stark-raving mad.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I replied shocked. “It’s only music.” As I was mouthing the words, I realized that I might be kidding myself. I had already come to the conclusion that there was something extraordinary, perhaps even supernatural, at work here.

“Well, it’s of no consequence to me,” said the bag lady. “You’ll do what you will. Haven’t you wondered why there’s nobody else on this street?” I glanced up and then down the stark street and realized for the first time, that other than the bag lady, I hadn’t seen another living soul in more than two hours.

“They scurry like saints with crosses from that music, girly. So beware.”

The lady turned then and shuffled on her way, her hands over her ears, as if the music was indeed hurting her. I watched her for a long time, speechless, knowing that something else should be said, but unable to find words to describe my emotions. Halfway down the block, she stopped and stared back at me. A flight of noisy pigeons took wing from an alley and my eyes were drawn to their fluttering ascent. When I looked back, the bag lady was gone.

I became frantic and fidgety. I didn’t know what to do next. I knew what I wanted; I just didn’t know how to go about getting it. I felt like an addict in need of a fix. I knew that I did not have the courage to heed the bag lady’s admonitions. I stood on the sidewalk, whirling around like a mad dervish. I needed to get into that apartment. I could not control my emotions. I had to talk to that boy about his music, his pain. I felt that our lives had somehow intersected, that his pain was now my pain. I sensed that no one else could understand the deep turbulence inside him like I could. I knew of no graceful way to get what I wanted, so finally I just went to the door and knocked.

I was persistent. He didn’t come immediately, so I stood and hammered. After a while, the music stopped and I heard the clatter of a chain-lock on the other side. The door was finally opened and there stood the young man, six feet tall, handsome, with sad, haunted brown eyes and a jagged scar on his right cheek. I winced when I saw it, and hoped that he hadn’t noticed my reaction. He wore faded blue jeans and a white button-down shirt open at the throat. Around his neck hung a gold chain with the Star of David resting against his hairless chest.

He just looked at me, his face expressionless. “I’m Roxanne Templeton,” I said. “I...heard your music from the street.” My voice trailed off as I felt color rise in my cheeks.

“Yes?” he said.

“It’s beautiful,” I replied in a soft voice, but not without a trace of awe. I knew my description paled, however, in the face of those indescribable melodies. “I wonder if you might be in need of a...singer?” What made me say that? I had no idea. In all honesty, I hadn’t known what I was going to say until the words were out of my mouth. I think I would have said just about anything to get close to that boy. My mouth was cottony-dry and I felt like I might pee down my leg any second.

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