Posted by Debra Solomon Baker on April 19, 2012
My father wrote this as an opening address to a program he taught in South Florida today about the music of the Holocaust. We must never forget. Thanks, Dad, for helping us all to remember and for always being my patient teacher. It’s an amazing feeling to be so proud of a parent.
Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the heroic day 69 years ago, April 19, 1943, when during the last deportation days in the Warsaw Ghetto a group of young men and women refused to be transported to the death camps without a struggle. Instead of meekly boarding the transports that would take them to certain death, they took on the entire German army.
The battle raged for an unbelievable 27 days, and as expected the young Jewish heroes lost. But out of those ashes a new type of Jew emerged – one that would never again succumb passively to those that desired his extermination. That is why remembering this day is so important.
My name is Gene Solomon and I will be your Program Host today. Many of you know me, but for those who don’t, let me give you a short biographical sketch.
I retired at the age of 47 from law, accounting and several successful business ventures to pursue other interests. My wife and I have been living full-time in Boca Raton for the past 25 years.
I have written six books – three are Holocaust related – two are religious in nature – and one is about the lies and deceits in our American history. In addition to my writing, I play a serious game of bridge and I’m a mediocre golfer.
I consider myself a perpetual student. Music is my passion. When I lived in NY I was a regular at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. I have taken hundreds of music courses at Julliard, NYU, the New School, the 92nd Street Y, and The Teaching Company.
My classical music collection is extensive and includes all the great performers from the past including Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, and Jascha Heifetz, and also today’s most exciting new stars like Gustavo Dudamel, Lang Lang, and Anna Netrebko.
I currently lecture and give video presentations on Classical Music, Opera and Ballet at various communities and senior centers.
If music is my passion, then the Holocaust is my obsession.
My mom was raised in a small village in Poland. Being the oldest child, she was the surrogate mother to her ten younger brothers and sisters. But she was a rebel, and in 1925 at the age of 26 she left Poland and came to America. She was all alone and the only trade she knew was mending clothes. It was a gutsy move to leave everything behind, but I stand here today because of her decision to seek a better life.
Meanwhile, back in Poland her brothers and sisters got married and had many children. But when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 their fate was sealed. All told, about 200 of our relatives never saw the light of day again.
I was two-years old at the time and my father had just died, but I was the fortunate one – I was here and not over there.
Let me start by telling you what today’s program is not about.
- It is not about God’s absence during the Holocaust. That is such an enormous and troubling subject that it is best left to the rabbis and theologians.
- It is also not about Adolf Hitler and his disciples, or about the horrifying images from the death camps. Those you can get from Holocaust movies and books.
- Nor is it about the history of German anti-Semitism that culminated in the plans for the “Final Solution.” Historical scholars have written extensively on that subject.
- This program is also not about why some Jews recognized the danger and fled to safety, while others remained and went to their death. Or why some Jews survived the concentration camps, while most did not. That topic belongs to the Holocaust survivors.
- This program is also not about the bystanders who turned their backs on their Jewish neighbors and then grabbed their apartments and valuables, or about those same bystanders who murdered the few Jewish survivors that returned home to claim what was rightfully theirs.
- This program is not about why the teachings of Jesus failed Christianity when it was needed most, or why the Vatican remained strangely silent while Christians were murdering Jews. That discussion needs to be addressed by those of the Christian faith
- This program is also not about America’s decision to close its borders to Jews who were desperately trying to escape certain death or why America refused to bomb the gas chambers or the railway lines leading to the death camps.
- Nor is this program about IBM’s alliance with Nazi Germany to prepare computerized lists and addresses of every Jew in Europe, which made the round-up of Jews to the death camps relatively easy. Nor is it about Henry Ford’s major contributions to Germany’s war plans. Adolf Hitler was so pleased with IBM Chairman Thomas Watson and Henry Ford that he personally rewarded each of them with the Iron Cross medal for their outstanding efforts.
- This program is also not about Standard Oil and DuPont and all the other American business firms that continued to do business with Germany during the Holocaust – putting profits before humanity.
- And finally, this program is not about my mother’s ten brothers and sisters and their spouses and all their little children that never had a chance. Nor is it about my mom’s elderly parents and grand-parents who deserved a peaceful ending instead of a degrading death.
No – this program is not about any of those things. This program is about music – classical music – which means mostly German music – the music of Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Strauss, Bruckner, Haydn, and of course Mozart and Beethoven – music that was loved by both Germans and Jews – music that was loved equally as much by the executioners and those they executed.
Imagine classical music that is so sublime, inspirational and spiritually uplifting – and yet, love of this music did nothing to calm or suppress the savage beast that unemotionally and systematically murdered six million Jews along with 1.5 million children.
How was it possible to commit such acts of bestiality and then at the end of the day to savor the beautiful music of Mozart – played by Jewish concentration camp inmates who were next in line for oblivion?
This program also explores the role of the Jew in a post-Holocaust globalized world. Yes, we all know that we must never forget, and our children and grand-children must be taught never to forget. But what about the music?
How should we treat the music of anti-Semitic composers even though they died long before the Nazi regime came to power? Wagner, of course, is the prime example, but what about the others; composers like Liszt, Chopin, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Bach, and Schumann, just to name a few of the most prominent. If we reject all the composers that harbored anti-Semitic sentiments we will have very little good music to listen to.
And what about those Jewish composers like Mendelssohn and Mahler who abandoned their faith and converted to Christianity, not out of religious conviction, but merely to further their personal careers? How should we treat their music knowing that so many of their Jewish brethren preferred death to conversion?
In 2004, British filmmaker Christopher Nupen made a six-hour documentary that explored many of these troubling questions. For today’s program, I edited the film to two-hours. There will be a short intermission after the first hour.
The focal point of the film is Alice Herz-Sommer, a pianist and music teacher. Alice was born in Prague. She married Leopold Sommer in 1931 and they had one son. After the German invasion of Austria-Hungary, most of Alice’s family and friends fled to Palestine, but she stayed in Prague with her sick mother.
A year later her mother was deported and put to death. Alice and her husband and son were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where Alice was chosen to play music concerts. Because of her musical ability, she and her son survived the Holocaust; her husband was sent to Auschwitz and was later killed in Dachau.
After the Soviet liberation of Theresienstadt in 1945, Alice settled in Israel and worked as a music teacher in Jerusalem. She emigrated to London in 1986 with her son who had become an accomplished cellist. Today, at the age of 108, she is the oldest known Holocaust survivor.
When Alice was 104, she published a bestselling book, A Garden of Eden in Hell that described her life in Theresienstadt. In her gripping memoir, she attributes her longevity to her love of music even though the music she was playing was for her Nazi captives. According to her, “even in the very, very difficult times, music made me really happy.”
The title of today’s film, We Want the Light, is taken from a poem by a 12-year-old girl, Eva Pickova, written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Her poem, entitled Fear, reads in part:
My heart still beats inside my breast
While friends depart for other worlds.
Perhaps it’s better – who can say?
Than watching our numbers melt away
Do not desert us in our pain
We seek a better world
We want to live
We want the light!
Do not forget us
Do not forget us
Do not forget us
Eva Picková perished in Auschwitz on December 18, 1943. She was 14 years old.
After a short intermission we will hear from those who play classical music for a living: Evgeny Kissin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, and Pinchas Zuckerman.
Evgeny Kissin will conclude the program, playing the Brahms Piano Sonata in F minor.
One last thought before we begin. Holocaust Remembrance Day is filled with powerful memories and emotions. The best way of keeping the meaning of this day alive is to share those feelings with your loved ones and close friends.