Lost Childhood is based on Dr. Yehuda Nir's memoir of his childhood in hiding from the Nazis in Poland during World War II, and on conversations with Dr. Gottfried Wagner, great grandson of Richard Wagner. When Nir's father was arrested in 1941, Yehuda (Julek) was eleven years old. He, his mother, and his teenaged sister Lala were forced to enter the brutal game of survival as the Jewish family moved from place to place disguised as Polish Catholics. In the opera, Julek's memory of his "lost childhood" emerges from a conversation he has fifty years later with Manfred Geyer, a German born after World War II, the son of a prominent family of Nazi sympathizers. Manfred and the adult Julek (Judah Gruenfeld) are psychiatrists, colleagues at a professional conference. For the first time, Manfred urges Judah to confide in him about his experiences as a Jew during the war.
For fifty years, Judah has kept silent about this period of his life, and he is reluctant to talk about it, especially with a German. Full of bravado and self-mockery, he gives a brief picture of his family at the start of the war. Gradually, however, Manfred's questioning opens the floodgates, and Judah's memories come rushing back, carrying him deeper and deeper into his past.
Over a period of several days, the two men confront each other and wrestle in private with their own painful memories. A powerful bond develops between them as they face the past and their complex, unexpected feelings about each other. The characters of Judah and Manfred, though fictitious, were inspired by the friendship of Dr. Nir and Dr. Gottfried Wagner, a passionate proponent of post-Holocaust dialogue between victims and Nazi perpetrators and their children.
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Soloists; chorus; standard opera house size orchestra