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Wednesday October 18, 2000

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NPR commentator speaks about his book at UA

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By Kathleen Shull

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Martin Goldsmith talks about his family's history and the Holocaust

Music saved the lives of George and Rosemary Goldsmith.

"My parents taught me that music is something worth risking one's life for," said Martin Goldsmith, the long-time host of National Public Radio's "Performance Today." "It was not just courage, persistence and luck, but also music that saved their lives."

He spoke Monday night about his recent book, "The Inextinguishable Symphony: A Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany," at the UA School of Music's Holsclaw Hall.

Goldsmith's book recounts his parents' story of survival and discloses a little known aspect of Nazi Germany's cultural history.

On April 7, 1933, 8,000 Jewish-German artists, many whom Goldsmith said were the best artistic talent within Germany at the time, were fired because of their religion. They lost their civil service jobs at state-run theaters, opera houses and other state-subsidized cultural institutions three months after Adolf Hitler was named chancellor.

These job losses not only foreshadowed the numerous other indignities and atrocities the artists endured during the next 12 years, but Goldsmith said many of these unemployed artists only found work and temporary refuge in one of the eventual 49 Jewish cultural associations established throughout Germany.

"It is important that young people know about the Kulturbund. Fifty-five years after the war, it still is in many ways difficult, if not impossible, to understand what happened," he said. "I think the whole Kulturbund story is one of ambiguity. It is about how life is filled with ambiguities. The KuBu was simultaneously a refuge and an island. It gave Jews a false sense of security."

Goldsmith said it is hard from this vantage point, more than half a century later, to understand what motivated people to stay in Germany as long as they did in one of history's darkest epochs.

Thomas Kovach, German studies department head, attended the book discussion and said yesterday the author's upbeat presentation itself worried him somewhat.

"Although music and love may have saved their lives, what a wider audience may not understand is, in reality, it was a lot of just plain luck that they escaped Germany. I simply have some misgivings that some people might misunderstand their story is a typical story, which it wasn't," he said. "The Kulturbund may have been an island of good luck, but it is a minor one when you consider what happened to most Jews. We mustn't loose sight of those realities."

Mireya Obregon, a music performance senior and German minor said Goldsmith is fascinated with his parents' story.

"He seems to have realized how decisive music was for his parents within that historical context," she said.

The author recounted the complicated eight years which his parents, George Goldsmith, a flutist, and Rosemarie Gumpert, a violinist, spent in the Jewish Kulturbund orchestras in Frankfurt and later in Berlin while in their 20s.

These were Jewish-only culture associations, the only places Jewish artists could find work and the only places where a Jew could publicly attend concerts, theater or dance performances, lectures and later even films, Goldsmith said.

The larger KuBus had their own orchestras, theaters, dance ensembles, lecture series and other cultural events to offer their respective Jewish populations. No Aryans were allowed except security forces, he said.

George Goldsmith, the author's father, was temporarily a flutist in several performances in Frankfurt after being forced to leave a second music school because of his ethnicity. He emigrated to Sweden, but his love for Rosemarie brought him back to Germany in spite of the dangers.

His parents fled Germany via Lisbon to the United States in 1941.

The KuBu, as it affectionately became known by the artists who worked there, lasted from late 1933 until Nov. 9, 1938, when hundreds of synagogues, Jewish businesses and homes were destroyed, he said.

This night is known as Kristall Nacht or Night of the Broken Glass.

The KuBu lasted for eight seasons in Berlin and put on fabulous, first-rate productions of plays and concerts, he said.

After November 1938, the Nazis shut down every KuBu except the one in Berlin, where Goldsmith's parents relocated until their emigration to the United States in 1941. The Nazis used the KuBus for propaganda purposes to show how "well they were treating the Jews," he said.

The Jewish cultural associations were allowed to sell tickets on a subscription basis. Profits went back to the Reichskulturamt, the Nazi government's oversight office for cultural affairs.

The Gestapo attended every performance. They made sure after the summer of 1937, and after the Austrian annexation in 1938, that these culture associations no longer performed German or Austrian-born composers, playwrights, authors or poets, except for Friedrich Handel.

That meant no performances of Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Liszt, Strauss, Wagner or Hayden.

One reason so few knew about the Jewish culture association performances is they were not allowed to publicize their seasonal offerings except in Jewish publications, Goldsmith said.

The Berlin KuBu published the only Jewish newspaper remaining in Germany after many Jewish editors and publishers were fired and many book companies were taken over by the government or put out of business altogether.

The Berlin KuBu re-opened shortly after the Night of the Broken Glass and was then reclosed in October, 1941, just before Hitler's final solution. Millions of Jews were murdered in mass executions or transported to concentration camps to be gassed.

Martin Goldsmith lost five members of his immediate family in the Holocaust. Only his parents and his paternal Aunt Bertha were able to leave.

His father, who had worked for the New Orleans and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras, retired to Tucson with his wife, Rosemarie, who was a violinist in the St. Louis and Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestras until they moved here in the 1980s.