Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Great Holocaust documentary

Holocaust Education week just ended, but it's never too late to watch a great documentary, and this is a fine one.

It tells a story I'd never heard of before: the great violin virtuoso, Bronislaw Huberman, realized that the Nazis were bent on eradicating Jews and Jewish culture from Germany, so he refused to play in the country after 1933. But he did something more: he personally set about collecting the very best Jewish musicians from Germany and eastern Europe, many of whom had been dismissed and denied employment under the Nazi race laws. He assembled enough players to create a symphony orchestra, then obtained visas for them and their families to emigrate to Palestine. Altogether, he saved nearly a thousand lives, and the musicians he rescued formed what was to become the Israel Philharmonic.

From the director's website:
In the early 1930s Hitler began forcing Jewish musicians out of orchestras across central Europe; never before had so many experienced players been jobless simultaneously. The Nazis unwittingly presented a unique opportunity and with the short window of time still available, Huberman dedicated himself to fulfilling a dream.

The struggle to create the Palestine Symphony is a densely layered story with a range of key characters that could hardly be more diverse. Among them: a high Nazi official, Goebbels; renowned conductors, Furtwangler and Toscanini; a future head of state, Chaim Weizmann; and the families of victimized Jewish musicians who made up the ranks of orchestras across central Europe. Even the most famous Jew in the world played a role; a man who, among other pursuits, was an amateur violinist who liked to read music with Huberman - Albert Einstein.

Huberman knew that his orchestra would serve a broader purpose as well - a top flight orchestra of Jewish immigrants would be a powerful tool to fight the savage anti-Semitism spreading out from Germany, and it would build the prestige of Jews. Huberman foresaw that by arranging for these families to emigrate, hundreds of Jews would be saved whose fate would otherwise have been the gas chamber. In all Huberman saved close to a thousand people.

These are the paths our story tracks: the timeless tale of a brilliant young man coming of age and the suspenseful chronicle of how his efforts impacted cultural history. Perhaps most important, the film challenges us to look inward and ask the hard questions: how would I have reacted and what would I have done in the face of those momentous events in that terrible troubled time?

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