Righteous Among the Nations : the story of Ho Feng-Shan




Yee, Thomas B.

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Righteous Among the Nations : the story of Ho Feng-Shan is a four-movement music composition of approximately 25 minutes in duration. The piece is scored for Baritone solo voice and Pierrot Ensemble (Flute/Piccolo, Clarinet in B-flat/Bass Clarinet, Violin, Cello, Percussion, and Piano. Music and libretto is the creation/arrangement of the composer. The following is the Program note written to accompany the score to "Righteous Among the Nations", functioning as an introduction to the composition:

"In the year 2000, Israel's Holocaust remembrance center Yad Vashem posthumously awarded Ho Feng-Shan the title "Righteous Among the Nations," the nation's highest civil honor, for saving the lives of more European Jews than any other single individual during the early years of the Holocaust. As China's Consul General to Vienna from 1938 1940, he issued exit visas to any Jewish person requesting them, allowing them to leave Austria legally and reach safety elsewhere in the world via Shanghai and other Chinese ports. Hundreds queued up outside his consulate doors from morning to night seeking aid; Dr. Ho issued over 4,000 such visas, by conservative estimates, despite orders from his superiors to desist. On one occasion, an armed SS officer held him at gunpoint while he interposed his own body to protect a Jewish family. Ho Feng-Shan never breathed a word of his heroic actions to his wife, children, or friends—they were discovered by his family and Yad Vashem years after his 1997 death.

Ho Feng-Shan, like most Holocaust rescuers, started off as a bystander, attempting to maintain a life of normalcy after Germany's sudden annexation of Austria (Anschluss). However, when confronted with the jagged reality of the unfolding Holocaust—the beginnings of the extermination of Jews on Kristallnacht—he could no longer collude with genocide by refusing to act, becoming complicit every time he averted his eyes from need. In post-war years, after being reassigned to Brooklyn in New York City, Dr. Ho became fascinated with racial prejudice, seared so forcefully into memory by his years in Nazi-occupied Austria. He identified prejudice as the most important social condition in American society, observing and experiencing it in hiring, rent, voting, and education practices as well as tracing its roots through American history—especially slavery and immigration history.

I have come to admire Ho Feng-Shan deeply—for his awareness and compassion, humanitarian courage, and unwavering conviction during perhaps the twentieth century's most horrific time and place. As Dr. Ho himself writes (in a poem quoted in Movement IV), "The convictions of heroes [are] not lightly formed". Though the above history may seem flattened into the distant past, Ho Feng-Shan's character and actions stand robust, real, and three-dimensional, coming alive now for you in music. May we never forget, but remember—and by remembering, learn."



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