Wishart Bell’s Vesper Chorale recently experienced the profundity of the Jewish holocaust in a way that few people can. While no one, except those who suffered through the horror of the holocaust, can ever fully understand its devastation, Bell and members of the chorale found themselves fundamentally changed after performing “Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps.” It’s a collection of songs and poetry written by concentration camp victims in Poland during World War II.

“We were really able to connect with that part of history,” says Bell, a Bethel College adjunct voice instructor and founding artistic director of Vesper Chorale. “It is, of course, [the Jewish Community’s] story, but we were able to tap into that.”

Vesper Chorale, a voice and instrumental organization that performs collaborative historic and contemporary literature concerts with singers from colleges, universities, public schools and local parishes, presented the “Holocaust Cantata” last winter at Temple Beth-El in South Bend. WNIT Public Television filmed the performance. Paid for by the Kurt and Tessye Simon Holocaust Remembrance Fund, it aired April 7 and 29, 2010.

Bell said Vesper Chorale first presented the cantata at Temple Beth-El on Nov. 8, 2008 for the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. As part of Vesper Chorale’s Diverse Journey’s Concert series, the performance gained notoriety within the Jewish Community, prompting WNIT to film the project during the second invitation from Temple Beth-El to Vesper Chorale to present the piece.

Bell says he and the members of Vesper Chorale feel a profound connection to a community — the Jewish community — that they did not know before. “We liken it to the act of playing a role,” Bell said of the performance. “You research the character and try to get to the reality of the character.”

In this way, he explains, Vesper Chorale members feel a deeper bond with the Jewish community. “The choir feels that this was one of the most important things they’ve ever done,” Bell says.

For their Jewish audience, Bell says that the performance confronted them once again with the reality of the holocaust, making it fresh and allowing them to connect again with their history.

Here is an excerpt from the cantata: