Shlomo Mar­galiot’s Heroic Pi­ano Les­son

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Naomi Zevel­off

When Shlomo Mar­galiot was 15 years old, his mother sewed a stack of Re­ichs­marks into his shirt and sent him on the most im­por­tant er­rand of his young life: He was to pur­chase four tick­ets for a ship to Pales­tine, where the fam­ily planned to es­cape from Nazi Ger­many. But when Mar­galiot reached the ticket of­fice in Ber­lin, he learned that the ships were booked solid. In­stead, he re­turned home with four roundtrip tick­ets on a Ger­man air­line.

In 1939, com­mer­cial air travel was rare, ex­pen­sive and widely con­sid­ered to be dan­ger­ous. Mar­galiot’s mother took one look at the tick­ets and told him she would rather die on land than at sea. But even­tu­ally she agreed that the Nazis posed a greater risk than a flight across the Mediter­ranean. Mar­galiot, his elder brother and his par­ents ar­rived in Haifa not long be­fore the out­break of World War II. Their be­long­ings, in­clud­ing a dark wood pi­ano, fol­lowed by ship soon af­ter.

Last year, that pi­ano went on dis­play at Yad Vashem, Is­rael’s Holo­caust Mu­seum, bring­ing to light the Mar­galiot fam­ily’s unique sur­vival story. Re­searchers at Yad Vashem said they had never heard of another Jewish fam­ily that es­caped Ger­many to Bri­tish Man­date Pales­tine by plane. To­day, at 94, Mar­galiot can hardly ex­plain why he pur­chased the air­line flights rather than re­turn home empty-handed — a de­ci­sion that saved his fam­ily’s life.

“I still don’t un­der­stand it,” he said in an in­ter­view in his re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity in Kfar Saba, where he lives with his wife, Shu­lamit Mar­galiot.

Mar­galiot grew up in Chem­nitz, Ger­many, the youngest son of up­per mid­dle-class Pol­ish Jews who worked in the tex­tile in­dus­try. His par­ents, Me­nashe and Bracha-Leah Mar­galiot, sent him to elite schools and paid for swim­ming and sports lessons. Mar­galiot had a pri­vate mu­sic tu­tor to help him learn the pi­ano, a sta­ple in every af­flu­ent Ger­man home, but he of­ten shirked prac­tice for soc­cer. When Yad Vashem in­vited him to visit the pi­ano ex­hibit in Au­gust, he was too self-con­scious to play it for a TV crew.

In 1938, Ger­many or­dered the ex­pul­sion of Pol­ish Jewry. Mar­galiot’s par­ents hid in the home of an ac­quain­tance, but his brother, Abra­ham, who was study­ing in Ham­burg at the time, was de­ported to

Krakow. Mar­galiot, then at school in Leipzig, re­turned to Chem­nitz and re­united with his par­ents. Shortly there­after, Nazi forces and Ger­man civil­ians at­tacked thou­sands of Jewish busi­nesses and syn­a­gogues in what came to be known as Kristall­nacht. The Mar­galiot fam­ily be­gan mak­ing plans to leave.

De­spite the re­stric­tions placed on Jews, Me­nashe Mar­galiot had a per­mit to travel back and forth to Hol­land, where his busi­ness was based. There, he was able to ac­quire im­mi­gra­tion visas to Pales­tine, which at that time was un­der Bri­tish con­trol. Mean­while, Bracha-Leah Mar­galiot was able to se­cure per­mis­sion for Abra­ham to travel back to Ger­many to leave with the fam­ily. The fam­ily and their three con­tain­ers ar­rived in Pales­tine about four months be­fore the out­break of World War II. They left be­hind dozens of other rel­a­tives who died in the Holo­caust.

Mar­galiot’s fam­ily set­tled in Ra’anana, in cen­tral Is­rael, where his par­ents ran a poul­try and dairy farm. Mar­galiot be­gan an ed­u­ca­tional toy com­pany, while his brother taught at a univer­sity. The fam­ily re­ceived some com­pen­sa­tion for their prop­erty lost in the Holo­caust, in­clud­ing, Mar­galiot said, a re­fund for the re­turn trip air­line ticket. When Mar­galiot got mar­ried he moved the fam­ily’s pi­ano into the cou­ple’s new apart­ment in Tel Aviv. They had two sons, but nei­ther learned to play the pi­ano. Nor did their grand­chil­dren.

Last year, when the cou­ple moved into the Kfar Saba re­tire­ment home, their son Dubi Mar­galiot helped them to con­sol­i­date their be­long­ings. The cou­ple do­nated most of their fur­ni­ture to the Is­raeli mil­i­tary, but Dubi thought the pi­ano might be of in­ter­est to Yad Vashem.

For decades Yad Vashem had been seek­ing a pi­ano to place in a mock liv­ing room at the start of the mu­seum. The so-called “para­dox room” de­picts Ger­manJewish home life dur­ing the Nazi rise to power. The room is cozy and well ap­pointed, with both Ger­man and Jewish touches, like a book­shelf where tomes by the Ger­man poet Friedrich Schiller sit along­side a Ger­man-lan­guage Tal­mud. Yet, out­side a false win­dow in the room, footage of Kristall­nacht rages.

The room serves sev­eral pur­poses, said Noa Or, a re­searcher in the ar­ti­facts col­lec­tion at Yad Vashem. One is to show that Ger­man Jews saw no con­flict in their iden­ti­ties. Another is to show how Ger­man Jews felt com­fort­able at home, even though out­side con­di­tions were “start­ing to col­lapse. They were very Ger­man and they couldn’t see the writ­ing on the wall.”

For the most part, the “para­dox room” is fur­nished with orig­i­nal pieces from Ger­man Jewish homes be­fore the war, with plaques de­scrib­ing the fates of their orig­i­nal own­ers. How­ever, Yad Vashem was never able to lo­cate a Ger­man pi­ano. In­stead, the mu­seum made do with another pi­ano to il­lus­trate the cul­tural life of the typ­i­cal Ger­man Jewish fam­ily, where most young chil­dren learned to play the in­stru­ment.

Mar­galiot’s pi­ano is now a cen­tral part of the “para­dox room,” where the fam­ily’s story is de­scribed on a plaque. Ear­lier this year, Mar­galiot, along with his chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and great-grand­child. came to Yad Vashem to visit the pi­ano. Mar­galiot said he finds mean­ing in the fact that his fam­ily’s in­stru­ment is now part of Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion.

“It re­minds us of where we were born, the kind of ed­u­ca­tion we got and how we lived there once,” he said.

Mar­galiot’s pi­ano is now a cen­tral el­e­ment of Yad Vashem’s ‘para­dox room.’


SHLOMO THROUGH THE AGES: At left: Shlomo with his mother Bracha-Leah. At right: Shlomo with his brother Abra­ham.


THE KEYS TO SUR­VIVAL: When a TV crew asked Mar­galiot to play his fam­ily’s old pi­ano, he felt too self-con­scious to per­form.

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