Exhibition on Jewish Women

 

 

The Jewish Community in Szombathely has opened a new exhibition with special emphasis on women. I’m delighted to learn that The Violinist was a useful source. The sharing and recovery of the past continues. See the leaflet: leporello-elekt_eng

Róbert Balogh, who has translated the curator’s narrative and forthcoming album from Hungarian to English, sent me photos that historian Krisztina Kelbert located in the Savaria Museum of Szombathely. (I went there in 2008 but came away empty-handed!)

I found it particularly moving to see the happy face of young Klári in 1940 and the striking picture of her mother Zsuzsa (1941) that captures her warmth and wisdom. I’m only sad that Clare (Klári in her former life, before she came to New Zealand) did not live to see this. She struggled hard to remember her mother’s face. The third is Klári’s aunt, Rózsi Brill (1938), who survived the Holocaust and came to New Zealand with Clare.  An earlier photo of Klári and Mihály shows they would rather be outside playing – or in Klári’s case, playing the violin! But it’s wonderful to have all these.

 

HK14984_Galambos Klára_1940

Horváth Lászlóné 2009

Horváth Lászlóné 2009

HK5315_Brill Rózsi_1938HK5734_Galambos Klára and Mihály

Posted on 13th February 2016 in Books |education |Jewish Holocaust |Music |Research |Work in progress

 

Clare’s story in Veszprém

 

 

On Tuesday 24 March The Violinist was ‘launched’ in Hungary with a public event held in Veszprém, hosted by the University of Pannonia and the Library of Veszprém County. This event was inspired by the article András Dési wrote in Népszabadság (see my previous post). András was invited to take part in the presentation. He sent me this account:

First, I have to say that I’m still under the emotional impact of the event.

It was very well organized, about 50-60 students of the University of Veszprém attended.

 I can only appreciate the highest standards of the efforts of the organizers, Ms Eszter ADAM specialist at the Eötvös Károly County Library, Ms Boglárka FALUSSY, Director of the American Corner Veszprém and Ms Judit PALMANN, Director of the County Library. They really deserve all acknowledgement and honour.

The event began with music, two students played violin pieces of Béla Bartók.

After I read the message of Sarah, I introduced Sarah, and spoke about the book, and Boglarka read some excerpts of The Violinist.

Eszter found on the internet a video interview with Clare which was made on the occasion when she donated her two violins to music students in NZ.

It is an excellent video. Clare was saying that one violin was a “female one”, the other a “male one” and how much the latter one complicated her life. Some times she hated the male one, but mostly loved it.

The video was played and followed by a video message of Tibor Weinberger (Tibby Weston).

At the end of the event an old Jewish song was played from the internet, performed by a very famous Hungarian folk singer.

I think everybody attending the event was deeply moved.

 

Tibby’ Weston’s video, just over 5 minutes, is well worth watching. Tibby, now aged 95, was Clare’s first love and as far as I know, the only living person who knew her before the Holocaust. They found each other again decades later and he remained her dear friend to the end of her life. Tibby was hugely helpful to me in my research and I’m thrilled to have him on record here, from his home in Texas. He answers questions the organizing committee put to him, reading their questions in Hungarian, answering in English. (The questions are understood by his answers.) He illustrated his answers by reading extracts of Clare’s letters to him, again in English.

Tibby himself is quite something. It was originally suggested he should have a Skype interview, but he has a hearing problem which makes that difficult. Undeterred, he came up with this alternative idea, taught himself to make his ‘movie’, then posted it on You Tube!  http://youtu.be/wcc2KwqB0Vo

During our email conversations with Klara Szentirmay, who helped organize the event from Wellington, Tibby suggested the music to end the event. He explained:

There is an old Hungarian Jewish song that people in the death camps were singing, that men in the labor camps facing death sang at night to find peace. Here is a version sang by Marta Sebesteny with a violin crying the melody. I am not sure this is being heard in Hungary today, but the song was written in the 15th century and it is the equivalent of Amazing Grace, the melody of the slaves. Listen to it and see how it makes you feel. It was part of the music I sent Clare.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siZtBxCCTDs

While Clare’s feelings about Hungary were complicated, she wished her story to be known there. And it’s appropriate that this first presentation was to a predominantly young audience. She was very involved in Holocaust education for the young, and since she donated her violins to what is now called the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University, she took a close interest in and supported the young musicians who earned the privilege of playing her beloved instruments. Here is the video that András refers to above:  https://vimeo.com/53551302

I’d like to thank everyone mentioned above, and anyone else who helped make this event a successful and memorable occasion. For those working towards a Hungarian translation and publication of The Violinist, I hope the response is promising.

 

Posted on 29th March 2015 in Books |education |Jewish Holocaust |Music |Research

 

Elric Hooper on Nola Millar

 

 

Elric Hooper, interviewed April 2014

Elric Hooper, interviewed April 2014

Last month I completed a series of oral history interviews for the New Zealand Theatre Archive with a trip to Christchurch to interview Elric Hooper, artistic director of Court Theatre from 1979 to 2000. Originally a protégé of Ngaio Marsh on whose recommendation he got into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in 1958, Elric’s acting career then took off in what was a most exciting era of transformation in British theatre. Among other things, he was in Joan Littlewood’s iconic musical entertainment of 1963, Oh! What a Lovely War. He recently spoke about this in Appointment with Des Wilson on Radio New Zealand: www.radionz.co.nz/concert/programmes/…/audio/…/oh-what-a-lovelyw 

Nola Millar was sometimes described as New Zealand’s Joan Littlewood. After listening to Elric, I’m not sure the comparison is apt, but they were both courageous, innovative, political and extraordinarily individual. Elric worked for Nola Millar on a visit to New Zealand in 1972/3. He was struck then by how much the general level of theatre consciousness in this country had risen since his previous trip home in 1969. ‘Best of all,’ he observed, ‘there was a school. Nola Millar, that courageous and disconcertingly honest woman, was running a sensible full-time training scheme for aspiring actors in Wellington.’ (Landfall, ‘Making Our Own Mistakes’, December 1975.)

After we finished recording his life, Elric read Nola Millar: A Theatrical Life. I share his response here, compliments and all – shamelessly wanting new readers. More seriously, Elric’s reflections and perspective of my subject are of special value.

 

 

Dear Sarah,

Finished your biography Nola Millar – A Theatrical Life last night. My admiration is boundless. I began with a sense of duty but was soon overtaken by the story and the enthusiasm for this history of the formative days of the New Zealand professional theatre. For example all the stuff about the financial history of the New Zealand Players – its origins, its work and its decline was new to me. I saw all their early work and was bowled over by its decor and glamour. Also the inner story of the philandering of Dick Campion was a revelation – and so bold to publish while he was still alive.

What an enigma your central subject was! When the name Nola Millar is mentioned now all I see is a tall slender apparition going out the door. The absence of a sexual life and her constant self-neglect – teeth and fish-and-chips – is made substantial only by her obsession with racing, her distant friendships, her occasional flaring of temper – and of course her great work in the theatre and the drama school. Yet she lives centrally through the book – a kind of ever-present ghost. I thought the death sequence particularly moving. How rare it is to read the details of decline and demise.

Also enlivening was the roll call – Maria Dronke (who I always thought rather odd and grand reciting Keats in a heavy Viennese accent) Ngaio Marsh, of course (seen from a distance and not always the Easter Island statue of authority and grandeur) Michael Langham (whom I worked for at the Old Vic intellectual and beset) George Webby (whose gnat-like humour was as much
decorative as useful) Mike Nicolaidi (whose down-to-earth attitudes got things done) Michael Haigh, Ray Henwood, Don Selwyn (all good actors) Anne Flannery (whose mental decay trumped her theatrical endeavours) and so many more.

You build a picture of a city aspiring and with that certainty of superiority that is necessary to get things done. I am still surprised by the literary quality of the plays from Shakespeare to Brecht. But as you say it was easier for amateurs without pay to stage some of the great monstrous works like Mother Courage and Three Sisters. (I sometimes wondered if the theatre group actually had the rights to some of the pieces done. Brecht and his heirs were very careful of his copyright and some of the West-end hits seemed too recent to be free – but those were the days when New Zealand was at the ends of earth not the internet.)

I could go on but suffice it to say, I think you have done a wonderful job,

Yours, Elric

 

 

Posted on 11th May 2014 in Books |education |Music |Research |Theatre

 

Kelemen Quartet dedication

 

 

As part of the New Zealand Festival, Chamber Music New Zealand presented the Kelemen Quartet last night in a concert dedicated to the memories of two fine Wellington musicians who died last month, pianist Judith Clark and especially to violinist Clare Galambos Winter.

This programme that included Kodály and Bartók, played with such virtuosity and feeling by young Hungarian musicians, would have stirred Clare’s own feelings about being Hungarian. She recalled in the 1950s an early occasion of playing a Kodály work with the New Zealand National Orchestra (later the NZSO) when conductor John Hopkins turned to her and asked, ‘Did we get it right, Clare?’ After playing something by Bartók, which was more painful, Hopkins asked her how she felt. She told me, ‘I felt the suffering in the music very deeply. It drove right to the bottom of my soul.’ 

For a glimpse of Clare playing with the first violins of the NZSO in 1980, see http://youtu.be/8YzIHZyObgk

Posted on 14th March 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust |Music

 

Tribute to Clare

 

 

photographer Vera Egermayer

Clare, February 2014.

The last time I saw Clare, ten days before she died, I wished for her the quick and gentle release she wanted, for living was becoming too hard. If the end came more quickly than I expected, it was as she wished.

Over the last weeks she had enjoyed public and private tributes. In a special ceremony, Victoria University of Wellington gave her the honour of  making her a Hunter Fellow in December, the Jewish community had held a special occasion for her, and she shared with friends a heart-warming celebration of her life on her 90th birthday, held in style at her home.

As no Jewish venue was big enough to hold the numbers expected to attend her funeral yesterday, it was held at Old St Paul’s. People from her many walks of life, including former colleagues from the NZSO, came to farewell her in a service led by Rabbi Adi Cohen of the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation. I was honoured to be asked to speak. Here below is my tribute.

 

Tribute to Clare at her funeral at Old St Paul’s, Thursday 13 February 2014

Clare had the gift of making people feel special to her – many of you will know this – and I certainly felt that my relationship with Clare was very special, not only as her biographer but as a friend.

I am going to talk about Clare’s experiences of the Holocaust, and as a Holocaust survivor.

Klári Galambos and her family were victims of antisemitism before the German occupation of Hungary, but their lives were relatively safe. Aged 20, in her final year of her violin studies in Budapest, Klári had all the normal hopes and dreams of a young woman, and also she had ambitions for her future career as a violinist. Everything changed from 19 March 1944, when the German tanks entered Budapest.

Over the following months she would lose her family, her home, possessions, most painfully, her violin; also any sense of dignity, self-worth, individuality, all basic freedoms and human rights. She said, ‘We lost the value of everything and became non-persons. We were alimentary tracks. The only thing we could think of was what we were going to eat and how to eliminate it.’ Then followed a slow recovery to feeling human again, and it’s a measure of her strength of character that Clare eventually embraced life, experienced love and joy, and gratitude for the new life she found in New Zealand.

My work with Clare started with recovering memories of her family, and herself as a girl and a young woman. It could have been painful, I’m sure it was, but it was also a release to talking about her childhood, especially her mother. She hadn’t allowed herself to think about her mother for so long. After one of our sessions she dreamt of her mother for the first time, and awoke feeling comforted.

I was concerned about recovering memories that were better left dormant. It’s a further measure of Clare’s character and courage that that she told me I could ask her anything.

Her initiation to what she referred to as ‘the horrors’ came soon after the German occupation when she was thrown into a jail in Budapest for three days. That she and others should be herded and locked up, simply because they were Jews, treated like animals with standing room only and no sanitation, expecting to be shot, was all the more shocking to her because at that stage she still had all her sensitivities.

She was released and managed to get home to her family in Szombathely On 14 May the Jews of Szombathely were thrown out of their homes and locked in the ghetto. Clare’s recollection of this was foggy, except for a flash of memory of the family being evicted from their home.  In a passing glimpse into her parents’ bedroom, she saw the rough hand of a thug rummaging among her mother’s linen in her wardrobe. He pulled out Klári’s precious toy, a donkey with its stuffing coming out. She had loved that donkey, and until that moment she hadn’t known her mother had kept it. This poignant memory, which says so much, foreshadows the brutality that was to come.

The Jews had to hand in all valuable possessions, but Klári had permission to keep her violin. Then, after nearly two months in the ghetto, when they were boarding the cattle trucks to Auschwitz, willingly because they thought they were leaving a hellhole for a better place in Germany, one of the guards took her violin from her, saying ‘You won’t need this where you’re going.’  It was like losing her right arm, and it hurt her more than anything, even more than saying goodbye to her father, Andor Galambos, when he was sent to a labour camp, because she didn’t know she’d never see him again. He died in Bergen-Belsen.

The next parting was at the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Klári and her aunt Rózsi were separated from her brother Mihály and her mother Zsuzsanna. By this time, after the horrifying journey, Klári thought only of her hunger and thirst. When she later asked about where her mother and brother were, she was told they were burned in the gas chamber. Of course she didn’t believe this. Mihály was aged 14, Zsuzsanna 45.

Rózsi then became her whole family. Their captivity in Auschwitz-Birkenau was relatively short, but the conditions of the part of the camp where they were interred, Birkenau III, called ‘Mexico’, were such that few survived. Klári knew that to survive, they had to get out, and the only way was to be selected for slave labour in Germany. On the third selection they were successful and sent to a munitions factory at Allendorf.

After Auschwitz, Allendorf was like paradise, and Klári recovered some of her humanity, until winter came, the food ran out and all the prisoners suffered from toxic poisoning from handling chemicals and breathing poisonous fumes. But the war was ending and the Americans arrived in time for Klári. Many of you will have heard her describe her last days before liberation and her emotional realisation that she was free.

She then had to come to terms with what she had lost, where she could live and how. She and Rózsi returned to Hungary to find none of their immediate family had survived. When the opportunity to emigrate to New Zealand arose, they grabbed it and came in 1949. In New Zealand Clare, as she now called herself, wasn’t confronted by the past, and she had Rózsi. She determined to build a new life, which she did through music. Recalling her first rehearsal with the National Orchestra, she said,

‘I opened the music and it was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and it was somehow as if I were in a dark room and suddenly the window was opened and there was brilliant sunshine outside.  … I thought, Oh yes, I’m home. I’m home.’

Through music she could escape her past, or she could express her sorrows without having to name or define them. All that she had experienced remained part of her, somewhere deep inside.

Clare’s need for security and her hunger for love and for family were also met in New Zealand, through her marriages to cellist Karl Kallhagen and Dr Otto Winter, also through Carol McKenzie and her family, her other colleagues in the NZSO, and her circles of friends that widened in her retirement. To the end she was cared for and cherished by devoted friends, and that, she said, made life worth living.

We have lost our friend, but she touched us, opened our eyes and enriched our lives in ways that we will never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on 13th February 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust |Music

 

Music Joke

 

 

I hesitate to share this joke as it requires knowledge of music, but many people will enjoy it:

C, E-flat, and G go into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, but we don’t serve minors.” So E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them.

After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough. D comes in and heads for the bathroom, saying, “Excuse me; I’ll just be a second.” Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, “Get out! You’re the seventh minor I’ve found in this bar tonight.”

E-flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, “You’re looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development.” Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else, and is au natural. Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he’s under a rest.

C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.

 

Posted on 14th February 2012 in Music

 

Brahmissimo!

 

 

Bravo New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, soloists and conductor Pietari Inkenen for their inspired four-day festival of Brahms in Wellington last week. I want to write about this here for several reasons.

First, The Violinist tells the story of the NZSO since its pioneering days when the courage and spirit of players such as Clare Galambos laid the foundation for the superb orchestra we hear today.

Secondly, I simply love Brahms. I fell in love with his Violin Concerto as a girl, I sang his German Requiem many times in my years with the Orpheus Choir of Wellington (the last time was in 2008 on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht ) and, more recently, my work on Crisis was relieved by pounding around the hills listening to his symphonies on my i-Pod. The Brahms experience last week left me thirsty for more.

Thirdly, to show how strangely interwoven the strands of writing and music can be, concert pianist Diedre Irons, soloist for last week’s Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, helped proofread The Violinist. It’s a measure of friendship, but also her interest, that she devoted her hard-earned holiday between Christmas and New Year to such a task and The Violinist benefited from the attention of her musical intelligence and sensitivities.

The book’s main text is over 180,000 words – an average length. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands notes the soloist plays in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.2 but it’s the biggest work in the piano repertoire. Diedre’s rendition last Wednesday night was built on hundreds of hours to learn it, all the Brahms she has played previously, and indeed, a lifetime’s work in music since her debut with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at the age of 12, playing the Schumann Piano Concerto. It was wonderful to hear her colleagues, especially other pianists, pay tribute. Of the critics, Peter Mechen on Upbeat best reflected their views. Listen to Upbeat online – TuneIn

Posted on 16th October 2011 in Music