A 20th Century Passion

A 20th Century Passion, the documentary, tells the story of holocaust survivor, Dr. Peter Gary, and the world premiere of his oratorio in memory of the 6 million Jews massacred in the Second World War.



Ripped from his comfortable upper-middle class life in Budapest, Hungary at age 17, in December 1941, Peter Gary experienced the horrors of the Nazis' for four terrible years. On Christmas Eve, Peter and his mother – along with 300 the Nazis took others in trucks to some woods near the border with Poland. They were lined up, naked, on the edge of a ravine and shot with machine-guns. His mother jumped in front of him – pushing him down the ravine. She was killed, but Peter and three others survived and made their way to Poland. Peter was smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto; after four months there he was transported first to Majdanek then Dachau and ultimately Bergen-Belsen, where he was liberated by the British Army on his 21st birthday. He weighed 76 pounds.

Having studied to be a composer and conductor at the Franz Liszt Academy, Peter continued his studies in etho-musicology in the Sorbonne after the war. In 1950, he arrived in the United States to begin his life anew – adopting Gary as his new last name, with new hopes, new struggles.

While unable to make a living in his chosen profession, Peter studied to become a doctor and specialized in rehabilitation and pain management. He continued to write music, as he does to this day. In the 1970s, he wrote his most complex piece: A Twentieth Century Passion, an oratorio following the strict format of classical oratorios, this large musical presentation depicts the Holocaust from the end of World War I through the Nuremberg trial.

For many years Peter has been speaking to school children about his experiences and about tolerance. He says he owes it to the Jewish children who died and to future generations to speak out against hate. "We must stamp out hate for our children. We must believe that we can and will do better."

Finally, Peter's oratorio is to be performed. Musical Director Barak Tal will lead the premier performance, in Israel, in the Jerusalem Theater on April 16, 2016 – Peter's 92nd birthday! Conductor Tal has already spent a week in Canada with Peter going over every note and bar – an opportunity rarely afforded a conductor. He got to know not only the music, but Peter the man who is much more than a survivor.

Now this piece, written by a survivor has a home for all time, having been bequeathed to Yad Vashen, the World Center for Holocaust Research, in Israel. The only piece of music like it in the world, it is a living remembrance, unlike plaques or stone, as music lives and breathes.

Peter has dedicated the piece to the six million – each one a heartbeat. Interweaving the haunting refrains from the world premiere of A Twentieth Century Passion, the documentary will tell Peter's life journey.

Using a combination of in-depth interviews with Peter and archival footage from the 1940s, the story of his fate at the hands of the Nazis becomes the personal story that epitomizes the experience of millions. The horror of the concentration camps contrasts poignantly with current footage of Peter speaking to schoolchildren on Vancouver Island.

Musical Director Barak Tal visits Peter in his home just outside Victoria, British Columbia. They pour over his manuscripts for the oratorio that was written almost forty years ago. "I realized there was all this amazing music, oratorios, requiems, written to mourn and celebrate the death of one Jew – Jesus Christ – but no music for the six million. So I wrote something through which they can be mourned, year after year… down the ages."

Peter's wife promised when they married nine years ago that Peter would see the oratorio performed before he died, "Next year, In Jerusalem" says Barak. The film will culminate in the world premiere performance in Israel the day after Peter's 92nd birthday. We'll join Peter as he watches his dream become a reality and with him mourn and honour each one of those precious six million lives.

Support / Donate

It's wonderful to talk about the concert happening on April 16, 2016. It's equally wonderful to talk about a documentary that takes us through the history and into the concert.

Talk is cheap. Concerts and documentaries are not.

It is important that there be a visual as well as auditory record of how Peter came to write the Oratorio; very few classical composers survived the Shoah; fewer still went on to write a piece memorializing it. For future generations to understand how the piece came to be, a visual history is critical. You can be a part of that visual history. You will receive screen credit for your support by giving generously to enable David Malysheff to finish what he has started.

If you want to be a part of history, this is your moment. Support for the concert buys the fees for the soloists, the choirs and choir directors, the extra musicians and for the composer; it allows Peter Gary to travel to Israel and be in attendance at the world premiere of A Twentieth Century Passion.

A first time production of this magnitude requires more than a normal budget. Please help us reach our goal and bring A Twentieth Century Passion to life.