Speakers: Nazis tried to destroy Jewish music

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 1, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — When Dr. Racelle Weiman knows she will be speaking the next day about the Nazi suppression of art and culture, she expects a restless night.
It’s not nervousness. The Holocaust educator has given countless talks.
It’s knowing she will tell her audience about ultimate, complete evil — the efforts by Nazi Germany to morally cleanse itself of a race — and a culture — it determined was “polluting European sensibility.”
Weiman concentrated on the Nazi murder of Jewish music Thursday at a luncheon sponsored by the Salisbury-Rowan Symphony Guild at First United Methodist Church.
Her appearance neatly serves as introduction to an even bigger event at 7:30 p.m. April 7.
That night, at Omwake-Dearborn Chapel on the Catawba College campus, the Symphony Guild will sponsor a concert and the appearance of master luthier Amnon Weinstein, who recovered and restored violins from the Holocaust — the Violins of Hope.
Weinstein will bring with him to Salisbury one of those 18 Violins of Hope, and it will be played in concert by David Russell, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Belk chair of music. Russell will be playing the music from “Schindler’s List.”
The Violins of Hope will be in performance and on exhibition for much of April at UNCC — their first appearance in North America. Salisbury architect Karen Alexander, a member of the UNCC board of trustees, played a key role in arranging for one of the Violins of Hope to make the trip to Salisbury for the April 7 program.
Tom Wolpert, president of the guild, said the concert will be free with tickets limited to 700 people.
Weiman, an international speaker, activist on genocide prevention and senior director of the Dialogue Institute at Temple University, painted a grim picture of the Jewish music restricted by the Nazis and, despite those efforts, how it survived in the Jewish ghettos, concentration camps and even in the forests.
She received help throughout her presentation from Matthew Brown, music director at First United Methodist, who played examples of the great Jewish music that was suppressed.
Imagine the Germans deciding that instruments such as saxophones should be banned because the sounds were extremely Jewish. Think of restrictions on song tempos, which effectively eliminated blues and jazz.
Dance hall rules placed percentage restrictions on rhythms within a song.
The plucking of strings was prohibited, because it had Jewish connotations. Jewish music was considered “degenerate.”
In Nazi Germany, there could be no rising to one’s feet during a solo performance.
Weiman noted that one of the ironic twists to the Nazi’s suppression of Jewish, gypsy and African-American music — anything not Aryan — was that it regulated Germany’s own people, leaving them stuck with waltzes, marches and Wagner.
It was somewhat ridiculous, too, how the Nazis created other cultural problems for themselves. They didn’t always know what Jewish music was or wasn’t, forcing themselves to investigate, for example, the lineage of every German composer.
On one night in 1935, 8,000 Jewish symphony musicians, directors and producers lost their jobs. The symphonies were state-owned, state-run and considered government jobs — jobs Jews could no longer hold as they were stripped of all rights and citizenship.
Germany had a half-million Jews in a country of 16 million people. Where were they to go? Jews could only attend Jewish events and only play Jewish music. The ghettos and, eventually, the concentration camps became their jails — and often, their death sentences.
From 1933 to 1945, one of every three Jews in the world were lost, including two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe. The roots of this genocide sprang from World War I as German elites, looking for someone to blame for losing the war, saw Jews and blacks as their scapegoats. They were fearful and angry, Weiman says, and didn’t understand a changing world and democracies that called for tolerance and integration.
Weiman mentioned Adolf Hitler only once, to describe how he accused Jews of four things:
The Nazi dictator blamed Jews for believing in democracy and the notion that all people matter; they developed the idea of conscience; they gave the world Jesus, whose message of love for all did not mesh with Hitler’s vision of Aryan purity; and Jews were polluting the world.
Though many great Jewish composers and musicians died in the Holocaust, music among Jews also became an expression of resistance, Weiman noted. Music provided a spiritual existence.
Somehow in the camps, operas were written and performed, men’s and women choirs rehearsed and lives were saved because of the music Jews played.
The Violins of Hope coming to Charlotte next month are a call for everyone to remember the music, sounds and stories from the Holocaust that must be told, Weiman said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.