- By: Candace McKibben
I have had the borrowed DVD for a long time, so long I am embarrassed, but my friend assured me it was okay to keep it until I had time to review it. The time finally came last evening and I was overwhelmed by the poignant story of the “Defiant Requiem.” Last spring the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, the Holocaust Education Resource Council (HERC), Temple Israel, and FAMU shared the story of the spiritual resistance expressed by Jewish prisoners in the concentration camp of Terezin through the performance of Verdi’s Requiem mass at Ruby Diamond Auditorium. It was powerful and exquisitely beautiful. In the DVD documentary by PBS that I watched, the story is told in a different but equally compelling fashion and I found myself weeping throughout the shocking account. Some of the survivors of Terezin were interviewed in the documentary and their ability to wrest hope from despair, meaning from suffering, and joy from sorrow was beyond belief. I have often marveled at the resilience of the human spirit and certainly felt that in watching this poignant documentary.
A number of statements from survivors were profoundly touching but the one that seemed most significant to me and relevant to our current climate was a comment about truth. Speaking of the beautification of Terezin for the International Red Cross inspection, survivor, Marianka May, said, “Deception is not the right word for it. There must be worst words for that.”
It seems that we are living in a time when truth has lost its value. With so-called fake news and inflammatory commentaries on either side of the political spectrum, not just in our nation, but internationally, it seems that truth is passé. In 2009, when the fate of newspapers seemed sure, Robyn Meredith, a columnist for Forbes Magazine wrote, “How do you put a price on truth? We all know it is valuable, even priceless. It enables the functioning of everything from daily markets to democracy. We think it wrong when it is absent. But writing the facts is getting harder to pay for in the digital age. Who will buy the truth?”
Some eight years later it seems the truth is not only harder to pay for, it is harder to find. We are said to live in a “post-truth” environment where how we want things to be shapes us more than reality.
What seems most troubling to me is the way this disregard for truth and honesty in the public arena is withering the value of truth at the personal level. Persons across the political spectrum have voiced concern over what it means to our human psyche, to our souls, to disregard truth. Charles Sykes, commentator and author, recently wrote in the Jesuit magazine, America, “One of the most consequential questions we now face is whether truth matters anymore. This is no longer a theoretical question for postmodern academics. It is increasingly an existential question.”
If truth is so fundamental, and I believe from so many psychological, religious and spiritual perspectives it is, how can we nourish it in ourselves and in our world? As a little girl, I remember my mother quoting Walter Scott, “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” While never reviewing its literary origin or value, my mother did impress upon us that one lie leads to another and it is far cleaner, simpler and better to tell the truth.
It is a matter of integrity to be truthful with ourselves and with the world. Surrounded by the worst humanity could impose, the Jewish prisoners of Terezin were determined to remind everyone of humanity’s best as they sang in memorized Latin, “Whatever is hidden shall be revealed.” Courageously singing their truth gave them hope and as one survivor said, “Made them feel human.” I pray we all can express the best of our humanity as we find ways to value truth personally and in our communal lives.
If you do not know about the Requiem at Terezin, look it up and marvel at this wonderful story of resilience and strength.