On April 26, 2014, I will be participating in a Holocaust Memorial presentation for the Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, Mississippi. I will be serving as the featured speaker for their 2014 Yom HaShoah program.
The presentation will combine a discussion of the Violins of Hope with performances by Marta Szlubowska, who is the concertmaster of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. At her suggestion, Maestra Szlubowska will be performing Henri Wieniawski’s Legende, op. 17; Vittorio Monti’s Csárdás; and John Williams’s always emotional Theme from Schindler’s List.
I’ve also asked Maestra Szlubowska to perform a few Yiddish songs that were popular in Jewish communities during the Holocaust. One is Vu Ahin Zol Ikh Geyn? (Where Shall I Go?), which was written before the war by Latvian-Jewish composer Oskar Strock and lyricist Igor S. Korntayer, who died in Auschwitz. Although it pre-dates the Holocaust, Vu Ahin Zol Ikh Geyn? became popular among eastern European Jews who had been forced from their homes with nowhere to go. A translation of the song’s chorus asks,
Where shall I go?
Who can answer me?
Where shall I go,
When every door is locked?
The world is large enough,
But for me it’s small and crowded.
Everything I see is not for me.
Every road is closed.
Where shall I go?
The question “Where shall I go?” was certainly on the minds of the Jewish virtuosos who were dismissed from their positions in leading European orchestras. One was trombonist Heinrich Schiefer, who briefly found refuge in a Jewish orchestra before increasing discrimination convinced him to leave Europe for good. He had offers to join a jazz band in Argentina and a symphony orchestra in Baku (the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic), but ultimately accepted an invitation to join the new Palestine Symphony Orchestra. “Enough with the jazz and communists,” his father convinced him. “Stick with the Jews.” The story of the 75 Jewish musicians who founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra is detailed in the first chapter of Violins of Hope.