Martin Goldsmith, the former National Public Radio’s host of Performance Today, recreates in this memoir the life his parents led growing up in Nazi Germany and the fascinating story of the Judische Kulturbund Orchestra where his father played the flute, his mother the violin. Having escaped in 1941 and settled in the United States, his parents rarely talked about their lives in Germany, but finally the author prevailed upon his 79-year-old widowed father to tell him the details of his experiences. Fascinated by all that his father had to say, Goldsmith fleshed out his father’s story with research about Nazi Germany and the Judische Kulturbund, The Jewish Cultural Society, an entity founded by Jewish artists.
Goldsmith tells many engrossing stories. He starts with his father Gunther’s family in Oldenburg, Germany where his grandfather Alex owned a prominent department store. Then he moves on to introduce his mother Rosemarie’s family who lived in Dusseldorf where his grandfather Julian Gumpert was a violinist who ran a well-respected music academy. These two threads merged when the children in these two families, Gunther and Rosemarie, met in Frankfurt where they both were asked to join the Kulturbund orchestra. They fell in love and married.
Goldsmith tells us a great deal about the Judische Kulturbund, about its formation in 1933, the importance of its leader and spokesperson - the charismatic Kurt Singer, its programs, its greatest triumphs, its faltering, and its demise in 1941. The formation of the Judische Kulturbund was initiated with the permission of the Nazis by Jewish artists in Berlin to provide work for unemployed Jewish artists. The proposal was that these artists would entertain the Berlin Jewish community whose members faced increasing restrictions in their daily lives. At its peak in 1936, there were branches of the Judische Kulturbund in 49 cities across Germany.
But despite the triumphs, there were many stresses. After 1936 more and more German Jews, artists included, emigrated. Others “disappeared,” or were sent to labor camps or prison. Morale eroded. In addition, the Nazis kept placing more and more restrictions on performances. Brownshirts attended performances and sat in the front row. Eventually the lecture series offered by the Judische Kulturbund was cancelled. Finally, the groups outside of Berlin were shut down and only the Berlin group was functioning when the Nazis shut it down in 1941. As Goldsmith notes: In 1941 the Germans no longer had a need to divert or placate the Jews. They had decided to implement the final solution.
Goldsmith spends some time toward the end of the memoir discussing some of the interesting controversies surrounding the existence of the Judische Kulterbund. Some of the questions that have been raised are: Were the Jewish leaders of the Kulturbund naïve in thinking there was an advantage to working with the Nazis? Was the existence of the Kulturbund worth the cover it provided the Nazis? Did the existence of the Kulturbund and its successes make it easier for some who could have emigrated pass up emigration opportunities? Goldsmith seeks answers to these questions from his father, other survivors, and scholars.
All along he narrates events in his family’s life – how his parents thrived as members of the Kulturbund Orchestra and how they miraculously escaped Germany through the offer of sponsorship from a former pupil of Rosemarie’s father who had already immigrated to the United States. And he traces the tragic stories of both sets of grandparents, none of whom ultimately were able to escape the Nazis’ clutches.
This memoir includes family photos and reproductions of documents.
Goldsmith's father's family
Moses Goldschmidt – married Auguste Philipssohn
Alex Goldschmidt – son of Moses and Auguste; married Toni Behrens, daughter of Ludwig Behrens and Jeannette
Bertha Goldschmidt – daughter of Alex and Toni
Gunther Ludwig Goldschmidt – son of Alex and Toni; married Rosemarie Gompert
Peter Goldsmith – son of Gunther and Rosemary
Martin Goldsmith – son of Gunther and Rosemary; author
Eva Goldschmidt – daughter of Alex and Toni
Helmut Goldschmidt – son of Alex and Toni
Goldsmith's mother’s family
Julian Gumpert – married Else Hayn
Rosemarie – daughter of Julian and Else; married Gunter Goldschmidt (see above)
Friends, Acquaintances and Contemporaries
Nina Breger – Lotte’s daughter
Franz Calvelli- Adorno
Eugene Drucker – his son
Hilda Klestadt Jonas
Kurt Singer - his son
Sigfried Solms - her son
Hans Wilhelm Steinberg
Bruno Walter (Schlesinger)
Gerti Totschek Colbert
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Deutsch-Eylau, West Prussia
Gumpert Conservatory of Music, Dusseldorf, Germany