Rafael Schächter (born 25 May 1905, died on the death march during the evacuation of Auschwitz in 1945), was a Czechoslovak composer, pianist and conductor of Jewish origin, organizer of cultural life in Terezín concentration camp.
He came from Romanian town Brăila, but after World War I he came to Brno, where he studied piano at Vilém Kurz. He moved to Prague with Kurz and started to study piano at master school with Karel Hoffmeister, and composition and conducting at Prague Conservatory. After he finished studies, he was engaged (in 1934) to avant-garde theatre Déčko by E. F. Burian. In 1937 he established own ensemble—Komorní opera, where he performed less known chamber and also baroque music. Schächter was, as a Jew, transported to Terezín concentration camp on 30 November 1941 in Transport H, serial number 128. Here he set up a smuggled piano in the basement of the men's barracks housing. Without the constant oversight of Nazi soldiers within the camp, Schächter was able to assemble a male choir to keep morale high. He also managed to slip by the barred gates of the men's section to the woman's barracks to assemble a female choir there as well. When the genders were reintegrated by the Nazis, Schächter's established choir was able to gain clemency from the camp director. With his choir, which numbered well in excess of 200 members, he was able to create, often from a single score, productions of famous operas and works of classical music.
The first opera performed in Terezín was The Bartered Bride by Bedřich Smetana. Schächter rehearsed the performance only with piano and improvised choir and solos, but it was subjected to great acclaim. The initial performance took place on 25 November 1942 without permission from the Freizeitgestaltung (Administration of Free Time Activities), but the concert opera was so well received that it was shown to administration and approved for an official premiere on 28 November 1942. The performance was reprised many times.
Near the end of 1941, Schächter also became obsessed with the idea of performing Verdi's Requiem as a mass, for the Nazis, he believed, would be damned in the final judgement. From a single score, he had his singers memorize the Latin lyrics, learn the translation, and individually taught them the tune. In September, the Nazis resumed deporting prisoners to Auschwitz extermination camp. However, though his choir was decreasing rapidly with time, Schächter refused to perform the requiem before it was perfect. Finally, in January 1942, Schächter's masterpiece premièred with a chorus of 150 and only a piano for accompaniment. Over the following months, even as his choir shrank, the requiem was performed 15 times. Finally, when only 60 members of the choir remained, Schächter retired the piece. The final performance, however, came afterwards, when Schächter was invited to perform the piece before visiting members of the International Red Cross and Schutzstaffel (S.S.). Unable to resist performing this piece in the face of the Nazis, Schächter gathered his choir for the last time.
A few months after this final performance, on 16 October 1944, under transport named Er and serial number 943, Schächter was loaded into a rail road cattle car with approximately 1,000 other prisoners. They were transported during a 3-day journey to the infamous Auschwitz camp. According to a survivor's account, he was sent to the gas chamber immediately after arriving at the camp.
- "Music and the holocaust Raphael Schächter". Retrieved 22 March 2011.
- Kuna, p. 26
- Karas, Joža. "Developement of Choral Activities". Music in Terezin: 1942-1945, 2nd Ed.
- "Theresienstadt 1941-1945 Ein Nachschlagewerk" (in German). Retrieved 21 March 2011.
- "Terezín: 'The music connected us to the lives we had lost'". Retrieved 9 August 2014.
- Kuna, Milan: Hudba vzdoru a naděje. Terezín 1941-1945. Praha: Editio Bärenreiter, 2000. H 7822 (Czech)
- Šormová, Eva: Divadlo v Terezíně 1941/1945. Památník Terezín, 1973. (Czech)
- Bor, Josef (1964). Terezínské rekviem. Prague: Československý spisovatel. (Czech) - Czech novel about Rafael Schächter
- Documents about Rafael Schächter in the collection of the Jewish Museum Prague
- Raphael Schächter - Music and the Holocaust