January 4, 2019Fort Ontario International Holocaust Remembrance Day Event -
On Sunday, 27 January, 2019, at 1:30 PM, Musicologist Marilynn Smiley, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of the State University of New York at Oswego, will present a special program on the Music and Musicians of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter at the Francis Marion Brown Theatre in Fort Ontario Park, Oswego, NY.
The Oswego program is one of many International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies and commemorative events occurring worldwide. During WWII Fort Ontario served as the only refugee camp or shelter for mostly Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the United States. International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations as a Memorial Day for victims of the Holocaust; it is observed annually on 27 January, the day in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp of WWII.
Music was an important part of the lives of the nearly 1,000 European refugees from 19 countries speaking 22 languages interned at Fort Ontario from 5 August 1944 to 3 February 1946. Several refugees were professional musicians who had held prominent positions in Europe, and many were talented amateurs, all eager to perform. Concerts, recitals, operas, plays, and other programs were presented regularly at the fort theatre, and were attended by refugees, Oswegonians and others. Refugee musicians also gave programs for local churches, clubs, schools, and other organizations. Programs were performed by talented pianists, singers (opera-classical-popular-cabaret), chamber ensembles, a small orchestra, and choirs of different religions and nationalities.
Two of the fort refugees were composers including Charles Abeles, an Austrian who wrote operettas, songs, piano music, conducted the orchestra, and taught music theory and appreciation courses. A couple of Abeles' piano pieces will be performed by Juan Francisco Lamanna, Professor of the Music Department at SUNY Oswego. Songs by Abeles will be sung by Leon Carapetyan, Emeritus Professor of the SUNY Oswego Music Department. A second composer among the refugees was Leon Levitch from Yugoslavia, who was just a teenager at Fort Ontario, but wrote choral music for the shelter's youth choir. A recording of some of his numbers sung by the State Singers at SUNY Oswego will be played. Levitch later settled in California where he composed chamber and orchestral music and had a distinguished career as a piano technician at UCLA.
The musical contributions of the refugees were quite impressive. As was stated in the May 17, 1945 issue of the shelter newspaper published by the residents, the ONTARIO CHRONICLE: "A people who lives, sings; a people who sings, lives."
The Francis Marion Brown Theatre is located in the old red brick Army Quartermaster Storehouse (Building 30) at the north end of East 4th Street in Fort Ontario Park, Oswego NY. Seating is limited to the first 100 persons. The 1.5 hour program is free and open to the public, and there will be plenty of free parking. For more information on the program, Fort Ontario, and the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter, contact Historic Site Manager Paul Lear at (315) 343-4711, or Paul.Lear@parks.ny.gov. The Safe Haven Museum and Education Center, located nearby at 2 E. 4th Street, is open year round and dedicated to interpreting the history of the Shelter. Contact (315) 342-3003 or visit safehavenmuseum.com for winter hours of operation.
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