In 2016 during our civic year we met Michael Zorek and his sister Jennifer Zorek-Pressman who were visiting Gloucester, having come over from the USA to visit sites in Europe connected with their family.
They told us that their father had been one of the Jewish children rescued by the Kindertransport (‘children’s transport’) and brought to Britain to escape the Holocaust. He was housed in Alexandr Road, Kingsholm, during the Second World War.
Michael and Jennifer’s father survived the war, and they are alive because of that. Others in the Zorek family were not so fortunate, and were deported to the concentration camps.
We learned from Michael and Jennifer of the commemorative project known as the ‘Stolpersteine’ (‘Stumbling stones’). These small concrete cubes are topped with a brass plate, and inscribed with names and life dates and deportation details of victims of the Holocaust.
They were created by Gunter Demnig as a way to remember the victims of national socialism, and are laid in the pavement or path outside the victim’s home or workplace, or the last place the person was known to have been when taken. Some 56,000 have been laid so far in 20 European countries.
Michael and Jennifer showed the stolpersteine they had had made to commemorate their family members. The stones are very heavy, and beautiful in their simplicity. It was an intensely moving occasion to meet Michael and Jennifer and just listen.
Since meeting the Zoreks we commissioned a piece, called A Kindertransport Journey, with libretto by poet Euan Tait and music by composer Stephen Gowland.
This is a piece for choir, string quartet, oboe and piano, with soloists and a separate chorus. The words are incredibly moving, speaking of Jewish legends and the City of Gloucester as the ‘City of Welcome’:
‘We children are the song of the winds
around your head, the breezes playing games
around your feet
you took into your hearts, made safe,
made welcome, made yours’.
The piece was first performed in the 2019 Gloucester Music Festival, and will be reprised on Tuesday 21st June in St Catherine’s Church, London Road, Gloucester, at 6pm. More details are online here.