Today at My Poetic Side we contemplate “First they came” on the 125th anniversary of the birth of its creator, and we look at a previously unknown side of Siegfried Sassoon as a new opera “Silver Birch” takes place.
Niemöller – The Pastor who clashed with Hitler
2017 marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Pastor Martin Niemöller, a rather remarkable German Protestant. Niemöller was a submarine commander during World War I and was awarded an Iron Cross, First Class.
A man of the highest principles he was thrown into Dachau Extermination camp during World War II having clashed with Adolf Hitler. He remained there until he was released by the allies in 1945. He went on to campaign for freedom all over the world, condemning the presence of America in Vietnam. He also campaigned for nuclear disarmament.
Niemöller, is credited with having written “First they came” a famous poem that many people will have heard quoted, or at least at part of, at some point in their lives. Written in defence of the poet’s actions; it makes a passionate claim of speaking out against those people who are in charge when they set out to place limits on human liberty. Over the years parts of the poem have regularly been misquoted. It has also been rewritten by many to express more recent current political situations, mostly recently regarding Donald Trump in the run up to the American elections last year.
Silver Birth – A new opera about Siegfried Sassoon
The new opera, written by librettist Jessica Duchen, sheds new light on the friendship between the great poet and his niece, Sister Jessica Gatty. It explores the intense friendship, the family fallout that this caused and explores the life and beliefs of Siegfried Sassoon in a completely new light based in part on memories shared by Sister Jessica.
Jessica was the daughter of Sassoon’s brother in law, she was also his goddaughter. When Sassoon and her aunt ended their marriage, Sassoon was no longer a part of her life although she was fully aware that he existed and that he was famous. It wasn’t until 1958 when she was 21 that they met up again and their friendship blossomed. Not into the sort of friendship some families might worry about; Sassoon was known to be a homosexual and had been linked to several men, including the actor Ivor Novello, but instead a friendship that in turn led to Jessica, who had until this time been an atheist turning to Catholicism. This was something Jessica’s family blamed Siegfried for; although it was in fact entirely Jessica’s own decision and one which ultimately saw her becoming a nun in 1976.
Silver Birth is on at the Garsington Opera, Buckinghamshire 28th – 30th July.