Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Orchestra of Exiles

On Yom Hashoah we saw the documentary film at AACI Netanya entitled "Orchestra of exiles," about Bronislaw Huberman, the greatest violinist of his age, and how he came to found the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, that was originally the Palestine Orchestra.
Huberman was born in Czestochowa, Poland, in 1882 and at an early age was recognized as a violin prodigy.  His father took him to Berlin where he studied with the greatest violinists and he was soon touring the world and played in Britain, the USA and Russia.  In the 1920s he was recognized as the greatest violinist of his generation.  He was deeply affected by the suffering of WWI and was active in founding the Pan-European society that espoused peace through national reconciliation.  In 1926 he visited Palestine, then under British control, and performed throughout the country to enthusiastic Jewish audiences.  However, the growth of Nazism in the 1930s took him and many others by surprise.  After 1933 he refused to perform in Germany, even though he was personally invited by Adolf Hitler.
During the consolidation of Nazi power in Germany, Jews were dismissed from all professional posts and this included some of the greatest musicians.  Kurt Feuchtwangler, the famous conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, although he was sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish musicians, nevertheless cooperated with the Nazis and all the Jews in the Orchestra were fired.  Huberman seeing the plight of so many top Jewish musicians, out of work with no source of income and having been in Palestine and experienced the thirst there for European music, realized that he could do something about the situation.  He conceived the idea of establishing a first-class orchestra in Palestine made up of the Jewish musicians who were now available in Europe.  He also foresaw the catastrophe that was looming for the Jews of Europe, and so he took upon himself the project of not only founding this orchestra, but of saving the lives of the Jewish musicians not only of Germany, but of all Europe.   
During the early 1930s, as the situation in Germany worsened, Huberman spent several years criss-crossing Europe auditioning Jewish musicians for the planned Palestine Orchestra.  He did this to the detriment of his own musical career. For many of the Jewish musicians the idea of going to Palestine, which at that time was considered a God-forsaken country, full of sand and Arabs and not much else, was too much and even though they had no work and were in danger many rejected the offer, they were not Zionists.  In response to the situation in Germany a Jewish orchestra was organized to play for exclusively Jewish audiences with the permission of the SS, but that did not last long.  Huberman gradually accumulated a list of the premier musicians in Europe and then came the very difficult task of ensuring their entry into Palestine.
In order to enter Palestine a Jew needed two documents, a visa from the British Mandatory Government and a permission from the Jewish Agency.  Both proved to be very difficult to obtain, since both had restrictions.  David Ben Gurion, the Head of the JA in Palestine refused to issue permits to Huberman for the musicians since he gave preferance to workers and fighters, that was what the Zionist cause needed.  So Huberman went over his head to the Chairman of the JA Chaim Weizmann in London, and he was persuaded to issue the permits.  Weizmann also contacted the British Government in London who agreed to the entry.  The then British HIgh Commissioner of Palestine Arthur Wauchope agreed to issue special exemption certificates for all the musicians and their immediate families, so after several months everything looked clear.  But, Huberman lacked the money to pay for the travel and other expenses of the musicians and the setting up of the Orchestra.  So he persuaded Albert Einstein to sponsor a dinner in New York that collected enough funds. He also persuaded Arturo Toscanini, the premier conductor in the world, who was an active anti-Nazi, to conduct the Orchestra
So Huberman gathered some 100 musicians in Tel Aviv, 30 from Poland, 25 from Germany, 5 from Holland and Czechoslovakia and so on.  They gave their inaugural concert in Tel Aviv on March, 1936 under maestro Toscanini, and it was a huge success.  The concert was broadcast all over the world and was heard from Berlin to Los Angeles.  The Ochestra toured Palestine giving concerts, and Ben Gurion had to admit that it was a tremendous success for Zionism.  What Huberman wanted was to establish the continuity of European Jewish culture that very much included music in the Holy Land.  When Israel was established in 1948 the Orchestra changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, recognized as one of the greatest Orchestras in the world.  Through his efforts Huberman not only established the IPO but also saved the lives of an estimated 1,000 Jews, including the musicians and their families.   Huberman, exhausted by his efforts, died in 1947 in Switzerland.  


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