Jewish vi­o­lin­ist fin­ishes fa­ther’s piece that Nazis re­fused to hear


In 1933, the promis­ing young Jewish-Ger­man vi­o­lin­ist Ernest Drucker left the stage mid­way through a Brahms con­certo in Cologne at the be­hest of Nazi of­fi­cials, in one of the first an­tiSemitic acts of the new regime.

Now, more than 80 years later, his son, Grammy Award­win­ning Amer­i­can vi­o­lin­ist Eu­gene Drucker, has com­pleted his fa­ther’s in­ter­rupted work. With tears in his eyes, Drucker per­formed an emo­tional ren­di­tion of the Brahms Vi­o­lin Con­certo in D Ma­jor, Op. 77, over the week­end with the Raanana Sym­phonette Orches­tra.

“I think he would feel a sense of com­ple­tion. I think in some ways many as­pects of my ca­reer served that pur­pose for him,” the 63-year-old Drucker said of his fa­ther, who passed away in 1993. “There is all this emo­tional en­ergy and in­ten­sity loaded into my as­so­ci­a­tions to this piece.”

Thurs­day’s con­cert, and a sec­ond per­for­mance Sun­day night, com­mem­o­rated the Jud­is­cher Kul­tur­bund — a fed­er­a­tion of Jewish mu­si­cians in Nazi Ger­many who were seg­re­gated so as not to “sully” Aryan cul­ture.

Af­ter the hu­mil­i­a­tion in Cologne, the el­der Drucker be­came a cen­tral player in the Kul­tur­bund, a unique his­tor­i­cal phe­nom­e­non with a mixed le­gacy.

On one hand, it gave Jews the op­por­tu­nity to carry on with their cul­tural lives and main­tain a sense — some would say the illusion — of nor­malcy in the midst of grow­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against them. On the other, it served a Nazi pro­pa­ganda ma­chine ea­ger to por­tray a mod­er­ate face to the world. It was a pro­to­type for the “Ju­den­rat” sys­tem in which rel­a­tively priv­i­leged Jews naively op­er­ated un­der Nazi aus­pices all the way down the road to de­struc­tion.

Long be­fore the Nazis placed Jews in ghet­tos and gassed them to death in con­cen­tra­tion camps, they were mostly pre­oc­cu­pied with “pu­ri­fy­ing” Ger­man in­sti­tu­tions with racist laws and street jus­tice. Jews were fired from their gov­ern­ment jobs, ex­cluded from al­most all or­ga­ni­za­tions and public events and ha­rassed into em­i­grat­ing.

So­lace in Crum­bling World

For the largely as­sim­i­lated Ger­man Jews, who had a deep con­nec­tion to the coun­try’s cul­ture and his­tory, the Kul­tur­bund of­fered a much-needed cre­ative out­let as their world was crum­bling.

“They wanted to show the Ger­mans why it was im­por­tant to pre­serve us and why we were bet­ter than they thought we were. There was this delu­sional sense that this may al­ter their fate,” said Orit Fo­gel- Shafran, gen­eral manager of the Raanana Sym­phonette Orches­tra. “This was their mis­take. They thought this gave them some sort of im­mu­nity.”

Ini­tially, the Nazi cul­ture min­istry granted the Kul­tur­bund rel­a­tive free­dom, so long as its per­form­ers and au­di­ences were ex­clu­sively Jewish.

At its height, thou­sands of mu­si­cians, theater ac­tors and other per­form­ers took part, in­clud­ing some of Ger­many’s most no­table artists, at dozens of venues across the coun­try. As the years pro­gressed, how­ever, and the Nazi ide­ol­ogy took deeper root, greater re­stric­tions were im­posed un­til even­tu­ally they could only per­form Jewish works, with Bach and Beethoven off-lim­its.

The Kul­tur­bund was re­duced sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter the pogroms of Kristall­nacht in 1938 — when Nazi- in­cited ri­ots marked the start of the cam­paign to de­stroy Euro­pean Jewry. Mu­si­cians went un­der­ground or fled, like Drucker’s fa­ther, who went to Amer­ica.

Many found their way to the Holy Land where they helped es­tab­lish what would later be­come the world-renowned Is­rael Phil­har­monic Orches­tra. Most of those who stayed un­til the end in 1941 were sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps.

‘Kept the Jews cul­tur­ally alive’

Hil­lel Zori, a cel­list and artis­tic direc­tor of the Raanana sym­phonette who ini­ti­ated the event af­ter much re­search, said he had mixed feel­ings. By or­ga­niz­ing them­selves, he says the Jews of­fered the Nazis a blue­print for “un­wit­ting self-de­struc­tion.” Still, he said he was in awe of the way they pre­served their hu­man­is­tic val­ues through Ger­many’s de­scent into geno­cide.

“They felt ‘ we are pre­serv­ing our cul­ture. We be­long to the Ger­man cul­ture,”’ he said.

In many ways, Ernest Drucker’s ex­pe­ri­ence was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment that made the Kul­tur­bund nec­es­sary. As a top stu­dent at the Cologne con­ser­va­tory of mu­sic, he was sched­uled to play the en­tire Brahms con­certo at his grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony in the sum­mer of 1933.

Shortly be­fore the event, he 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.

“This showed the writ­ing on the wall. The bells were ring­ing at full vol­ume,” said Fo­gelShafran, who traces her own fam­ily his­tory in Ger­many back sev­eral gen­er­a­tions. “But the Ger­man Jews didn’t want to be­lieve it.”

Drucker fled Ger­many in 1938 and moved to the U.S., where his son was born. The younger Drucker said the in­ci­dent in Cologne was a “dra­matic ex­pe­ri­ence” for his fa­ther that stayed with him for years. “Mu­sic was prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing to my fa­ther,” he said.

Drucker, a found­ing mem­ber of the nine- time Grammy win­ning Emer­son String Quar­tette, said he was not 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.”

Thurs­day’s per­for­mance in the cen­tral Is­raeli city of Raanana 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.

Drucker said he didn’t know if it was “my place to cor­rect a his­tory wrong.” But back­stage, af­ter the per­for­mance, he was clearly moved.

“As a mu­si­cian I feel like the cir­cle is never com­pletely closed,” he said. “But I was stand­ing there at one point ... and I re­ally did start to think about my fa­ther.”


In this photo taken Wed­nes­day, May 27, Grammy Award-win­ning Amer­i­can vi­o­lin­ist Eu­gene Drucker plays his vi­o­lin dur­ing a re­hearsal con­cert at the Mu­sic Hall in Raanana, cen­tral Is­rael.

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