Forbidden Holocaust-era music revived in communal tribute

Forbidden Holocaust-era music revived in communal tribute

The Clarion Quartet played music that was deemed “degenerate” by the Third Reich. 
Photo by Adam Reinherz
The Clarion Quartet played music that was deemed “degenerate” by the Third Reich. Photo by Adam Reinherz

More than 80 years after the rumblings of the Holocaust stifled the musical compositions of a generation, the era’s silenced scores were revived in Oakland, all in tribute to the quarter-century dedication of Young Israel Congregation’s spiritual leader and rebbetzin, Rabbi Shimon and Chani Silver.

“Music doesn’t normally need much explanation,” Flavio Chamis, curator of the Monday night event at Bellefield Hall, explained. However, “we will all benefit if we learn a little about the history.”

Entartete was a term adopted by the Third Reich for condemning music, Chamis told the several hundred attendees. Beginning in 1933, music or art deemed entartete, or “degenerate,” was restricted, forbidden and effectively forgotten.  

Selectively silenced because of its seeming opposition to German culture, the music encompassed the works of several composers, including Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) and Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944). Both composers spent time in concentration camps: Schulhoff, a Czechoslovakian composer and pianist of Jewish descent, died from tuberculosis in Wülzburg; Ullmann, an Austrian composer, pianist and critic, was gassed at Auschwitz after spending two years in Theresienstadt.

“It’s very important for the audience to know,” said Charmis. “You will experience the music in a different way if you know these things. The circumstances under which the composers wrote the music — it’s unimaginable for us today.” 

The audience listened to a rich musical program featuring selections from Schulhoff, Ullmann, David Zehavi and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Debuting with the program was the Clarion Quartet, an ensemble of professional musicians including Jennifer Orchard (violin), Marta Krechkovsky (violin), Tatjana Mead Chamis (viola) and Bronwyn Banerdt (cello).

“The main purpose is to honor the Silvers, but we’re very proud that we’re the genesis of this quartet and that it will be an ongoing project” of Young Israel, said Dr. Frank Lieberman, a member of the evening’s tribute committee and organizer of the event.

For his part, Shimon Silver, who since 1990 has held various communal positions including scholar-in-residence at the Pittsburgh Kollel, teacher at the Mesivta of Greater Pittsburgh in White Oak, supervising rabbi of the community eruv and mikvah and member of the Vaad Harabonim of Greater Pittsburgh, credited an earlier rabbinic leader.

“Every day I appreciate Rabbi Shaul Kagan, z”l, who welcomed us here. He gave his life for this community,” said Silver.

Chani Silver is an instructional designer and learning technology specialist at Carlow University. The couple, who has eight children, credited the community with their offspring’s growth.

“I think the Pittsburgh community did more for us than we did for them,” said the rabbi. “The community has provided a place for our children to thrive, and we appreciate that.”

This is a community that is “out of the limelight, has derech eretz, is decent, has old-time values,” he continued. “The menschlichkeit is priceless. This is a warm haimish community; it’s a great place to call home.”

To mark the Silvers’ contributions to Pittsburgh, Councilman Corey O’Connor read a proclamation from the city.

Apart from acknowledging the Silvers’ communal work, attendees were asked to rely upon the music for honoring and remembering.

“We’re regenerating what was degenerated,” said Chamis. “We’re giving back to the world what was taken away. It’s a kind of tikkun olam.”

Shulamit Bastacky, who survived the Holocaust as a child in hiding, called the music “very solemn, very serious [and] very profound.”

“It’s profound that the composers’ music is being performed,” she said. “It’s a tribute to them and to the Jewish culture that was almost annihilated.”  

“By keeping the music alive and simply by being here,” she added after the program’s close, “we honor the memory of the composers and the memory of so many musical geniuses who were lost.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached

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