Dr. Joshua Fishbein captivated the class via Zoom owing to his incredible ability to tell a story and convey emotion through music. As an extremely accomplished musician, educator, and choral conductor, Fishbein showcased his five-movement cantata Out of the Ashes of Holocaust. The piece recounts his maternal grandmother’s survival story as a seven-year-old Greek Jew living during the Holocaust, and the family who saved her and her relatives.
Fishbein’s grandmother, Josephine Velelli, was taken in by the Greek-Christian Michalos family, who lived on a winery in rural Greece. Despite never meeting a Jewish individual before, the Michaloses agreed to take in Josephine and her family, ultimately saving their lives from the Nazis. Though the Nazis would eventually burn down the Michalos family home—forcing both families to share a two-room peasant cottage—both members of the Michalos and Velelli families would outlive World War II. Both families independently moved to Baltimore, where they coincidentally found each other once again and became life long, multigenerational friends.
Each movement of the cantata focuses on a different aspect of the story. Movement I is the introduction, serving as the backdrop. Movement II, titled “Our friends from Greece”, introduces the two soloists—with one representing Fishbein’s great-grandmother Emily Velelli and the other representing Kathryn Michalos, the matriarch of the family. Movement III “Homeless Again” tells of the destruction of the Michalos family home, when they moved into the cottage and lived together like one big family. Movement IV and V, titled “Never the Same” and “A Tiny Ripple of Hope” respectively, retell the end of the Holocaust and the families’ reunification in America.
Fishbein based his piece on a 1984 Baltimore Sun article, which was added to the U.S. House of Representatives’ public record by then-representative Barbara Mikulski adding the article to the, and Robert F. Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation Address,” which Mikulski quoted.
By transforming the story into an incredible cantata, Fishbein has forever solidified the generational retelling of their family’s tale. Collaborating with his wife, Fishbein’s piece reminds the audience of hope and acts of heroics and highlights how some friendships can transcend nations, decades, wars, and generations.