New Documentary Unveils 'Schindler' of Music World

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Most people have never heard of Branislav Huberman. The great Polish violinist founded the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and used music to rescue hundreds of Jews from Nazis death camps.

Now, a new documentary, called "Orchestra of Exiles," is profiling the man some are calling the "Oskar Schindler of the music world."

"Schindler saved a thousand people. Huberman saved a thousand people and no one knows him," Academy Award-nominated director Josh Aronson explained.

"He was a hero. He was a heroic character. He was a great, great violinist, he was a great artist and was a great man," Aronson said.

Founder of Israel's Cultural Life

A Jewish child prodigy from Poland,  Huberman began playing the violin at age 8. He performed throughout Europe and fell in love with audiences in Palestine.

"The film is about a man who starts the cultural life of Israel by founding the Palestine Symphony. It's about the difficulty and the obstacles, tremendous obstacles that were in the way of Huberman in doing this," Aronson said.

"It was before concentration camps," he continued. "It was before we knew what was coming in Germany. He talked to people about how dangerous it was going to get and it was eerie that he had that sense ...that Jews had to get out." 

Stand-Off With Hitler 

By the end of 1935, every Jew in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra had left. Most had been fired.

Eventually the Nazis invited only so-called "special Jews" to perform, but Huberman refused.

"The moment that Hitler came in, Huberman said he would never play in Germany again until every musician who had been fired from the Berlin Philharmonic was back in their seats and from the Frankfurt Symphonies and so forth, and he said he wouldn't go otherwise," Aronson recounted.

Birth of the Palestine Orchestra

Eventually, Huberman decided to form the Palestine Orchestra, a symphony of exiled Jews that would perform music at the very highest levels to show the world that the Nazis and their anti-Semitic beliefs could be opposed with the only weapon many Jews possessed -- music.

Huberman spent two years traveling throughout Europe, auditioning the best musicians. Most were Jews exiled from Central European orchestras, musicians like highly regarded soloist David Grunschlag.

Fleeing Germany

Huberman helped Grunschlag and his family move to Palestine.
 
"Luckily for my family, nobody had to go through the ordeals of concentration camps, thanks to Huberman, because getting my father out in 1936 to Palestine not only saved his life, but also his sisters," Dorit Grunschlag, the daughter of David Grunschlag, said.

One sister was 20 years old. The other was only 16.

As Hitler's power and influence grew, the Grunschlag girls knew they had to get out. After several embassies rejected their visa requests, they sent a letter to Huberman who was housed at the Budapest hotel.

"So, Toni wrote him. Dear maestro, you're our last hope. Please help us," Rosi Grunschlag, one of the sisters David Grunschlag, recalled.

Huberman agreed to help. Six weeks later, the two women received student visas and were on their way to Palestine.

"He made it all happen, yes," Rosi said.
 
"He knew, any Jew he gets out of Europe, he's probably saved his life or at least spared him a lot of misery and a lot of suffering," Gad Lewertoff, a historian, explained.

Satisfying the Cultural Thirst

And in the process, Huberman brought music and culture to the desert.

"It was a big deal, coming to a land where the culture is almost non-existent. But everyone was very, very thirsty for it. There was a lot of excitement in the air, you know, hustle and bustle. This was a country in the making," Thalia Fenyves-Reichard, daughter of a Palestine Symphony musician, said.

Led by Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, the Palestine Symphony performed its first concert on December 26, 1936. The event was broadcast on radio and heard by millions around the world.  

Each One Teach One

Huberman also started a music school. He insisted that all symphony players instruct others so a new generation of musicians could be built in Palestine.

When Israel became a state in 1948, the Palestine Symphony was renamed The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Huberman died in 1947. Although he never heard his orchestra perform the Israeli national anthem, The Hatikva, his legacy lives on.

"The seeds of culture that Huberman planted here, that he brought from Central Europe, we are reaping its rewards today and we will continue to reap its rewards," Zubin Mehta, music director of the IPO, declared.

The Sacrifical Musician

When CBN News asked Aaronson what he admired most about Huberman, he replied:

"For a man to stand up against intolerance and to sacrifice so much of himself and to change himself in doing it. He saw something happening in the world that demanded a response. And so many people today-and I hope this is the lesson of the film-so many people are so quick to look the other way."

Aronson's film helps people look at Nazis anti-Semitism and see how one man not only used music to save hundreds of lives, but also to restore a little bit of humanity to an entire world.

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Gary Lane

Gary Lane

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