A North-East based Holocaust survivor provided a fitting and emotional prelude to the opening event of this year’s Brundibár Arts Festival.

87-year-old German-born, former nurse, Hanni Begg of Guisborough movingly spoke about how she survived the Holocaust; and the horrific impact it had on her family.  She told the audience about how her siblings Max (aged 8) and Ruth (aged 6) where both murdered in Auschwitz. How she nursed her father during his final post-war days inside a bombed-out building, and had to bury him with her own hands when he passed away.

Hanni recalled to the Festival crowd about one significant part of her early life, when Adolf Hitler shook her hand during a school visit. A moment she looks back on in disgust, so much so, she couldn’t even say his name when telling the story.

In 1949, Hanni was encouraged to travel from Germany to the United Kingdom to train as a nurse. This is when she met her future husband, Frank.  They later moved to Guisborough, where he worked as a GP.  A role he continued for 30-years.

Hanni talked about her love of classical music, a great connection with the Brundibár Arts Festival. During the war she found an old gramophone in the rubble, and sold handmade ointments to earn enough money to purchase her first record.

Hanni fondly spoke of how her late husband wooed and serenaded her by singing Don Giovanni’s “Give Me Your Hand” in German.  Hanni has two children, Peter and Fiona.  Hanni said: “I decided to speak at the Brundibár Arts Festival, as I’ve spent most of my life not talking about the past.  I witnessed first-hand the near elimination of a whole human race from the Earth.  I feel now is more important than ever before for us to talk about the atrocities of the Holocaust, to ensure that it never happens again.”

Now in its second year, the Newcastle and Gateshead-based festival [Brundibár Arts Festival] aims to curate an annual programme of arts and music events that showcase the ‘little known music’ written during the Holocaust by victims and survivors.

The Brundibár Arts Festival is supported by Newcastle City Council, the Radcliffe Trust and the Community Foundation. The Festival formed part of Newcastle City Council’s month-long series of events to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, programmed in association with the City Council’s Arts Team.

The Brundibár Arts Festival venues include Newcastle City Library, Newcastle University King’s Hall, Sage Gateshead, Caedmon Hall, Gateshead Central Library, Arch 16 Café, Lit & Phil, Alphabetti Theatre and Brunswick Methodist Church.

Internationally renowned musicians have travelled from far-and-wide to perform at the Festival, from Switzerland to London and beyond. The events range from a wealth of music, song, spoken word, theatre, education workshops and lectures.

The programme includes the European Premiere of “Sugihara Survivors: Jewish and Japanese, Past and Future” directed by Junichi Kajioka. The short documentary is an uplifting film focusing on the subsequent lives of survivors after their escape from the Holocaust including interviews with survivors about their experiences and their personal memories of Chiune Sugihara.

Chiune Sugihara, was a Japanese diplomat, often named the “Japanese Schindler” – who saved over 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust earning him the title “Righteous Among the Nations”. The director is flying into Newcastle especially for the event, where he will be doing a special Q&A about the film (6th Feb, 7:30pm, Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle).

Juliet Lee, co-founder of the Brundibár Arts Festival, said: “The festival aims to be very uplifting despite the subject matter and historical context, which of course is incredibly moving.  The festival is emotional but people will also feel very positive.  There will be plenty of smiles, and hopefully everyone will learn something new and liberating from the programme.”

Cllr Joyce McCarty, Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “Newcastle is proud of its multi-cultural community and heritage. The city united in marking Holocaust Memorial Day with a series of events that explored why this is a part of history that should never be forgotten.  The programme has also helped to educate young school children, shining further light on difficult elements of the past.

“The Brundibár Arts Festival brings music and art inspired by the Holocaust to a whole new audience, spanning generations of people.  The council is pleased to support the festival as it delivers a valuable messages.”

The Brundibár Arts Festival events programme can be found at www.brundibarartsfestival.com including details of the ‘Festival Closing Recital’ at Brunswick Methodist Church in Newcastle on 7th February at 7:30pm.