In Israel last weekend, a Jewish-American violinist finished a performance of a concerto that his father began over eighty years ago in Nazi Germany. In the city of Raanana, Eugene Drucker, a Grammy award-winning musician, teared up as he brought to a close a rendition of Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, accompanied by the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra, which “commemorated the Judischer Kulturbund—a federation of Jewish musicians in Nazi Germany who were segregated so as not to ‘sully’ Aryan culture,” the AP reported.
In 1933, Drucker’s father, Ernest, was a top student at the prestigious Cologne Conservatory of Music, where he was scheduled to perform the Brahms concerto at his summer graduation ceremony. But the Conservatory’s administration had recently been overhauled by Nazi officials:
Shortly before the event, Drucker noticed his name had been crossed off the program. His teacher threatened to resign if Drucker’s name was not reinstated, and a compromise was reached with the school’s newly installed Nazi administrators whereby Drucker could perform the first movement only before being replaced by a non-Jew. Drucker played in front of rows of Nazi Stormtroopers before being whisked offstage and ultimately into the refuge of the Kulturbund.
The Judischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Organization) was an organization established through an alliance between Nazis and German Jews in 1933. According to author Bruce Zortman, the Kulturbund was one of the first approaches the Nazi’s used to deal with “The Jewish Question.” The Nazis, who were aware of the international disapproval of their racial policy, and economically unprepared to deal with a mass expulsion of German Jews, initially decided to compromise: They set up measures like the Kulturbund in order to isolate Jews in order to prevent them from “contaminating” the rest of the population. The Kulturbund lasted eight years and in that time, served as a creative outlet for a group of people increasingly marked as unwanted outsiders.
“[The Jews] wanted to show the Germans why it was important to preserve us and why we were better than they thought we were,” Orit Fogel-Shafran, general manager of the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra, told the AP. “There was this delusional sense that this may alter their fate. This was their mistake. They thought this gave them some sort of immunity.”
As time went on, the Nazi’s imposed increasing restrictions on the Kulturbund: eventually its members were only allowed to perform Jewish music. Its vibrancy was diminished significantly after Kristallnacht in 1938. Despite the darkness, however, many believe that the organization continued to be a beam of light for its members. Herbert Freeden, a former member of the Kulturbund and one of the first historians of the organization, famously wrote that:
…in its stubborn refusal to give up its bond to Europe and to deny its intellectual tradition, the Kulturbund became a moral reservoir of strength for Jewish Germans…an element of spiritual resistance.
According to the AP, after Drucker’s graduation performance was interrupted, he became “a central player in the Kulturbund,” before fleeing to America in 1938 where he had his son, Eugene.
Eugene Drucker says that his father was never “willing to criticize those who clung to their German culture in those difficult times.”
“It may have lulled some people there into thinking that they had more security existentially than they really had,” he said. “But it was an organization that kept the Jews culturally alive through the 1930s when they were increasingly segregated and kept out of most areas of personal fulfillment in the Third Reich.”
The AP reports that Eugene’s rendition “was preceded by a panel discussing just such dilemmas, as well as a musical rendition of the Jewish prayer Kol Nidre, with archival black-and-white footage of the Kulturbund showing in the background along with its logo of a flame inside a Jewish Star of David.”
After it was finished, Eugene, observably moved, commented on the performance by saying that he didn’t know if it was “my place to correct a history wrong.”
“But I was standing there at one point … and I really did start to think about my father.”