Concert to combine powerful words, music

For years, a former psychology teacher at Unionville High School kept a searing secret – a skill that at one time probably saved his life.

The Brandywine Valley Chorale will feature

The Brandywine Valley Chorale will present Donald McCullough’s 'Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps,' with an introduction from a Holocaust surviver with local ties.

Decades after escaping unspeakable atrocities at Auschwitz, a notorious Nazi death camp during World War II, Joseph B. Hirt, 91, maintained his silence. Leary of broaching subjects that would generate pain for himself as well as others, he worked as an educator, a bookseller, and a court tipstaff, befriending dozens of co-workers who had no inkling of his past.

During his tenure as a teacher at Unionville High, Hirt mentored a student, John L. Hall, in the early ‘70s. Hall, who maintained a friendship with Hirt long after high school, would go on to became a Chester County Court judge in 2003. Hall eventually hired Hirt, who retired from the high school in 1993, to work as a tipstaff, the staffer who escorts jurors and witnesses into the courtroom.

Hall once recalled the first time he learned of Hirt’s war experiences, calling it “one of the most stunning conversations I’ve ever had with anyone.” With encouragement from Hall and others, Hirt began to tell his powerful story, and area audiences have benefitted since that decision. On Saturday, April 30, Hirt will take part in the Brandywine Valley Chorale’s Holocaust Cantata at Unionville High.

The Brandywine Valley Chorale will present Donald McCullough’s “Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps,” starting at 7:30 p.m. Hirt will give the introduction to the cantata, and he will attend a reception following the concert.

Hirt grew up in a Jewish family in Poland, where his father was president judge of the regional court. As Hitler's forces advanced, Hirt’s family relocated to Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The family had plans to travel to New York, but the Germans bombed Belgrade the day before their departure. After several months, Hirt was captured while searching for food and taken to Auschwitz, where he was imprisoned for eight months, according to a Brandywine Valley Chorale press release.

McCullough’s work is an extraordinary musical journey through one of the bleakest episodes in human history, Jason Throne, artistic director of the Brandywine Valley Chorale, said in the release.

The Brandywine Valley Chorale was founded in June 2007 by a group of Brandywine Valley musicians, arts supporters and friends, BVC was created to add the art and beauty of choral music to the fine arts repertoire that is available in our area. Today, approximately 40 auditioned members strong, the group of men and women performs bi-annually throughout the Brandywine Valley. For more information, see

Unionville High School is located at 750 Unionville Road in Kennett Square. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for students and can be obtained at or at the door.


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