Maybe it was just a coincidence for Winnipegger Sid Rabinovitch, or maybe it was bashert, the Yiddish word for fate.
Whatever it was, the well-known Winnipeg composer ended up being entrusted with telling the story of Eddy Sterk, a Toronto Holocaust survivor who lost most of his family during the war.
The story goes back to 2013, when Rabinovitch was in that city to hear one of his pieces performed by the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir.
Sterk, then 86, was a member of the choir. After the performance, he asked to meet Rabinovitch and said he wanted him to write a piece of music in memory of his family.
"It’s up to you what kind," Rabinovitch said he told him.
The result is Eddy’s Story, which will be performed at an event called Kristallnacht: The Music of Remembrance, Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall at the University of Winnipeg. Admission is free.
The event commemorates the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass," when thousands of Jewish synagogues and businesses in Germany were damaged or destroyed and more than 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps.
The piece will be performed by chamber music ensemble Trio Exchange, made up of Madeline Hildebrand on piano, Elation Pauls on violin and Micah Heilbrunn on clarinet.
Rabinovitch said being entrusted with the telling of Sterk’s story was a huge responsibility.
"I had never done anything like it before," he said. "It’s a difficult subject to approach."
What made it harder for the 77-year-old is having no personal connection to the Holocaust — his family immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s.
"Being Jewish, I know Holocaust survivors," said Rabinovitch, a member of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia synagogue. "But I have no family connection."
What helped was a memoir written by Sterk in 2012, which Rabinovitch used to compose the piece.
Through a combination of narration and music, Eddy’s Story tells how Sterk and his family were transported from Holland by the Nazis to prison camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, and how he survived the ordeal to rebuild his life in Canada.
The piece was first performed in 2014 in Toronto, with Sterk in the audience. He died a year later.
Rabinovitch hopes the piece will make the Holocaust "more relevant and less abstract" for listeners, and that it will keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for future generations.
"Eddy’s story will continue to be told even though he is gone," he said.
In a 2012 interview with the Toronto Star, Sterk explained why he wanted to tell his story.
"The Holocaust is in my mind every day," he said. "Yet I have indestructible confidence in the goodness of mankind."
For more information, go online to jewishwinnipeg.org or call 204-477-7400.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Friday, November 1, 2019 at 6:21 AM CDT: Adds photo