New Hampshire Humanities Council
Connecting People with Ideas

Join our mailing list
Give to the NHHC

Events Calendar


Humanities to Go




Bridging Cultures in Kingston


Featured Programs

The Brundibar Project: An exploration of the Holocaust through theatre

The Humanities Council has awarded a grant to the Winnipesaukee Playhouse for a project that will explore the Holocaust through theatre. The project will include performances of the children's opera, Brundibar, and Tony Kushner's one act play But the Giraffe.

The story of Brundibar is simple. Two children embark upon a quest to find medication for their ailing mother. As in every simple story, complications emerge. The children are poor, but they collect money with their singing. Unfortunately, the village organ-grinder is a bully who hates children and is jealous of any money the children manage to earn. When the village cat, dog and other children cooperate, they raise their voices in song to defeat the tyrant. The children return home to heal their mother.

"Such a familiar story!" writes project humanities expert Nona Fienberg, Keene State College Professor of English and of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. "Like little Hansel and Gretel, who triumph over the wicked witch in the forest near their home, the children in Brundibar turn the powerful social system on its head. People respond immediately to stories of virtuous children creating a community effort to overcome a bully — or a tyrant. Brundibar tells of the unexpected ways that music and art give voice and power to those less heard. When presented in the theatre, Brundibar connects the audience with the joy of imagining, even creating, a better-ordered social system."

Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister wrote the opera in 1938 in Czechoslovakia for a government competition. Rehearsals started in 1941 at the Jewish orphanage in Prague, which served as a temporary educational facility for children separated from their parents by the war. In the winter of 1942 the opera was first performed at the orphanage: by this time, composer Krása and set designer František Zelenka had already been transported to Theresienstadt, a ghetto/concentration camp created by the Nazis in Prague. By July 1943, nearly all of the children of the original chorus and the orphanage staff had also been transported to Theresienstadt.
Reunited with the cast in Theresienstadt, Krása reconstructed the full score of the opera, based on memory and the partial piano score that remained in his hands, adapting it to suit the musical instruments available in the camp. A set was once again designed by František Zelenka, formerly a stage manager at the Czech National Theatre: several flats were painted as a background, in the foreground was a fence with drawings of the cat, dog and lark and holes for the singers to insert their heads in place of the animals' heads. On September 23, 1943, Brundibar premiered in Theresienstadt. The production was performed 55 times in the following year.

A special performance of Brundibar was staged in 1944 for representatives of the Red Cross who came to inspect living conditions in the camp; what the Red Cross did not know at the time was that much of what they saw during their visit was a sham, and that one of the reasons the Theresienstadt camp seemed spacious was that many of the residents had been deported to Auschwitz in order to reduce crowding during their visit.

Later that year this Brundibar production was filmed for a Nazi propaganda film Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives the Jews a City). All of the participants in the Theresienstadt production were herded into cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz as soon as filming was finished. Most were gassed immediately upon arrival, including the children, the composer Krása, the director Kurt Gerron, and the musicians.

The Brundibar footage from the film is included in the Emmy Award-winning documentary Voices of the Children directed by Zuzana Justman, a Terezin survivor, who sang in the chorus. Ela Weissberger, who played the part of the cat, appears in the film. The footage appears again in As Seen Through These Eyes, a 2009 documentary directed by Hilary Helstein. There Weissberger describes the opera in some detail, noting that the only time that the children were permitted to remove their yellow stars was during a performance.

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse in Meredith will present Brundibar, coupled with Tony Kushner's But The Giraffe, a one-act companion play written fifty years later, on May 1 - 4. Tony Award-winning playwright Kushner wrote the English libretto for Brundibar, along with But the Giraffe, the story of a young girl who is faced with the difficult decision of saving her beloved stuffed giraffe or her uncle's Brundibar score. An expert facilitator will host a talkback between the performers and the audience about the plays and the context in which each was written. A multi-dimensional exhibit with images and articles on the history of Brundibar will be on display in the lobby.

Youth groups statewide are invited to prepare in advance by using specially developed educational packets to teach children and youth about Brundibar, Thereisenstadt, and the Holocaust. Each participating group will also receive the lyrics and music to the climactic victory song and be invited to perform the song, alongside the actors at one of the five productions. Contact Winnipesaukee Playhouse Executive Director Bryan Halperin at 279-0333 or by e-mail for more information.

Performances are scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 1 to 4, at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Members of participating youth groups registered in advance will be admitted free of charge. Tickets for the public are $10. The performances are suitable for children ages 7 and up. For tickets, please visit the Winnipesaukee Playhouse website or call 279-0333.

Bridging Cultures series in Kingston to explore the Middle East and what it means today

What does Islam have to do with us? How do the connected histories of Muslim and Judeo-Christian cultures help explain the current political and religious divides? The Humanities Council has awarded a grant to the Kingston Community Library for a dynamic, multi-part series exploring Islamic history and culture and the connections between the Middle East and the West.

Titled Bridging Cultures: Understanding the Middle East & What it Means Today, the series will include lectures, film and book discussions, teacher professional development and a presentation to high school students in Sanborn Regional High School. Ambitious anywhere, this project brings to New Hampshire citizens multiple opportunities to learn about a topic of global significance guided by nationally- and internationally-known scholars. In addition to the New Hampshire Humanities Council grant, parts of the series are supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Let's Talk About It book talk grant and the Prince Alaweed Bin Talal Center for Christian Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Dr. Ethel Sarah Wolper, Associate Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern History at the University of New Hampshire, serves as the project humanities expert.

The project began in October and concludes on April 9 at 7 p.m. at the library when Ali Asani, Harvard University Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures,will present the final talk in the series, Understanding Islam Beyond the Headlines.

To learn more about this project and future events, visit the library's website.


Beat on the Street: Second Lines, Mardi Gras and the Photography of Gary Samson

Escape the grey and white of the winter landscape into a world of color and celebration at the University of New Hampshire Museum in Dimond Library in Durham.
The Humanities Council has awarded a grant to the University Museum for events related to an exhibition of the vivid photos by Gary Samson of the Mardi Gras Indians, musical culture, and traditions of New Orleans. The project included a film showing and an event with the photographer.

The documentary film Bury the Hatchet was shown on Wednesday, February 12 at 3 p.m. in Theatre One in the Memorial Union Building at UNH Durham. Folklorist Burt Feintuch will led a post-screening discussion with Chief Alfred Doucette of the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Chief Doucette, who is featured in the film, shared samples of his handmade feather and beadwork suits. Learn more about the film at

New Orleans is known for its Mardi Gras "krewe" celebrations with floats, beads, music, and food during its annual world-renowned
festivities. However, in African-American neighborhoods, away from the masses partying in the French Quarter, the Mardi Gras Indians
have created parallel traditions. Gary Samson's photography captures not only the Mardi Gras Indians in action, but the exuberance in the street inspired by the music and dancing of the second line parades. These rarely seen images of New Orleans highlight the cultural fragility of such traditions in the wake of Katrina and will expose viewers to a working class African-American tradition that is little understood, even by most residents of New Orleans.

Gary Samson is Chair of the Photography Department at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. His work as a filmmaker and photographer have taken him to locations around the globe. Samson's photos are in the permanent collections of the Currier Museum of Art, the UNH Museum, the State of New Hampshire, the National Archives, and numerous private collections.

The University Museum will display Samson's photos through Friday, March 28. The exhibition will be open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays when the Library is open from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, contact Dale Valena at 862-1081 or


117 Pleasant Street, Concord, NH 03301 (603) 224-4071
FAX (603) 224-4072

About Us  Programs  Humanities To Go  Calendar of Events  Education  
Apply for a Grant  HomeContact us