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A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League. Lily E. Hirsch. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-4721-1710-9
Reviewed for Musica Judaica Online Reviews by Barbara Milewski
During the last two decades a formidable number of excellent studies have appeared in English and German that have given us an ever fuller picture of the compromised, politicized reality of Germany’s musical culture during the National Socialist period. Lily Hirsch’s book, A Jewish Orchestra in Nazi Germany: Musical Politics and the Berlin Jewish Culture League, is a valuable contribution to this body of knowledge.
Hirsch draws on previous scholarship published in Germany—notably Henryk Broder and Eike Geisel’s Premiere und Pogrom: der Jüdische Kulturbund 1933-1941, and Geschlossene Vorstellung: Der Jüdische Kulturbund in Deutschland 1933-1941 published in conjunction with a 1992 exhibit at Berlin’s Akademie der Künste, which houses the Kulturbund archives—and significantly expands on this material through interviews with League members and subsequent archival investigations. In so doing, she makes available to Anglophone readers for the first time a comprehensive and nuanced telling of the origins and activities of the Jüdischer Kulturbund, or Jewish Culture League, the self-imagined, Nazi sanctioned, Jewish cultural organization that staged musical and theatrical performances for Jewish audiences in Nazi Germany between 1933 and its disbanding in 1941. As Hirsch’s study makes clear, the League’s history remains one of the more poignant examples of the complex, ever-narrowing field of choices Germany’s Jews were forced to navigate after the Nazis assumed power and enacted anti-Jewish exclusionary legislation (intended to protect the purity of Aryan culture) that restricted all aspects of their public and private lives.
Music in Terezín 1941-1945. Joža Karas. 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-5764-7030-5
The Wonder and the Grace of Alice Sommer Herz: Everything is a Present. Dir. Christopher Nupen. DVD and Liner Notes. Allegro Films, 2009.
Shortly before his death in December 2008 Joža Karas completed the second edition of his book Music in Terezín 1941-1945, the culmination of a life’s work. When the book was originally published in 1985 it was path-breaking, documenting a largely unknown chapter in the history of the Holocaust: the lively and wide-ranging musical life in the “model ghetto” Terezín (in Czech, Theresienstadt in German). When Karas began his work as a “modest summer project” in 1970 (ix), very little music from the ghetto had been uncovered, and even less had been written about it. Karas, a Czech researcher and musician based in Connecticut, devoted the rest of his life to passionately researching the subject, conducting interviews across Europe, Israel, and the United States, undertaking archival research, and transcribing scores. In addition to publishing his book, he lectured widely on the subject, produced performing editions, and tirelessly promoted Terezín compositions in performances with his own string quartet, established expressly for that purpose. Karas himself conducted the American premiere of Brundibár in 1975 and the world premiere of the English version (in his own translation) in 1977. In short, the subject of music in Terezín has become well known among Western audiences thanks in large part to Karas’s pioneering efforts. Read the rest of this entry »
Judaism Musical and Unmusical. Michael P. Steinberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 270 pp. ISBN 978-0-2267-7195-3
In Judaism Musical and Unmusical, Michael P. Steinberg takes the reader on a journey through predominantly but not exclusively Central European Jewish history and culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at times privileging music as a focal point of cultural discourse. The eight essays in this volume, most of which have been published before, are loosely connected musings about the different facets of modernity and Judentum, and involve the concepts of memory, secularity, and aesthetics, among others. In each chapter Steinberg weaves different threads together, from art to psychoanalysis, from architecture to music. Steinberg’s book, which in a larger sense is a discourse about identity and Judaism, begins with an essay on Edward Said and his propositions of Jewish identity, and follows with individual case studies of known intellectuals and their work. Steinberg traces the subject of Judaism in Sigmund Freud’s late classic Moses and Monotheism and in the writings of Henry James, Eduard Fuchs, and Walter Benjamin; and he explores the intellectualism of Italian Jewish historian Arnaldo Momigliano. Further chapters center on the artist Charlotte Salomon and her Life? or Theater? and Leonard Bernstein in Vienna. The journey ends in Berlin with a critique of its Jewish Museum and an assessment of some recent scholarship on German Jewish subjects, which cannot compensate for the absence of a full bibliography at the end of the book.