Erich Elisha Samlaich
The tragic fate of a culture bearer
A horrible death in the concentration camp Jasenovac during the Second World War cast into oblivion the complete work of Erich Elisha Samlaich. Since Samlaich’s death, as far as I know, texts about him have been published only by Aleksandar Sharon 1 and Branko Polic 2 (see the bibliography). Danilo Fogel also mentions him, along with some photographs, in the book Jevrejska zajednica u Zemunu ("The Jewish Community inZemun"). My text – unfortunately published without my knowledge, my approval, or my proofreading in the Zagreb journal Ha-Kol 3 – is the sketch of a concert scenario in which Samlaich’s composition Sefardska tema sa Balkana ("Sephardic Theme from theBalkans") was performed, in Tel-Aviv in 2004.
In Dr. Juda Levi’s manuscript Naši Jevreji u književnosti, nauci i novinarstvu, muzici,likovnoj umetnosti i glumi ("Our Jews in Literature, Science and Journalism, Music andVisual Arts and Acting"), prepared just before the Second World War (and currently preserved in the Jewish History Museum in Belgrade), Samlaich is mentioned as "theyoungest but very gifted composer,"literature and music critic, conductor and melograph.
The Eventov Archive in Jerusalem (The Historical Archive of the Society of theSettlers from Yugoslavia), in addition to holding Samlaich’s doctoral dissertation and four of his printed compositions, preserves the reports about Samlaich written in Jerusalem byMirko Hirschl in Jerusalem (December 1955), Alexander Sharon (April 1957) and Leo Klopfer (July 16, 1978).
Transcontinental Music Publications in New York published Samlaich’s revised and edited choral score Dzunaj under the title Zhooni Na in 2005.
Sefardska tema sa Balkana ("Sephardic Theme from the Balkans") was performed by
1 Shanji Sharon: Erich-Elisha Samlaich , Bulletin HOJ, Tel Aviv, 1992, No.1, pg.19-20; Alexander Sharon: Zaboravljeni kompozitor ("The Forgotten Composer"). Most, Tel Aviv, 2004; no.4, p. 34.
2 Polić, Branko : „Židovski glazbenici – žrtve Holokausta“ ("Jewish musicians –The Holocaustvictims"). Novi Omanut, Zagreb, 1995; no.12, pp.9-10; Polić, Branko : "Habent sua fata documenta – Pronađeni rukopis disertacije (1939.) Ericha Eliše Samlaića: O životu idjelu Vjenceslava Novaka "("The Discovered Manuscript of the Dissertation (1939) of Erich Elisha Samlaich: On the Life and Work of Vjenceslav Novak"). Arti Musices, Zagreb, 2006; no.1, pp.79-92.
3 Dušan Mihalek: "Sviraj sad, Čifute "("Play now, you Jew") Ha-Kol, Zagreb, 2004; no.84, pp.35-39.
violinist Zhenja Kozlovsky and pianist Boris Fajner in Tel-Aviv in 2004; my version of this composition for 7 synthesisers was performed by the pupils of the Yamaha musicalschool in Beer-Shevi (Israel) in 2005, and I performed a version for the accordion in Tel-Aviv at the promotion of the book by Jennie Lebl Until the "Final Solution"– Jews in Belgrade 1521-1942 (translation into Hebrew) 2006.
Before the Second Wolrd War, Samlaich’s texts were published in the journalsOmanut ("Art") , Židov ("The Jew"), and Muzički glasnik ("Musical Courier"), and thetext "Sudbina Kol nidre melodije"("The Fate of the Kol Nidre Melody") was reprinted by the journal Novi Omanut in Zagreb in 2003.
Editions of his compositions gained wide acceptance in domestic and foreign press(Hans Nathan, Lazar Saminski, Mihajlo Lesjak, Ziga Hirschler, and others), although Vojislav Vučković reacted very severely about Samlaich’s brochure Muzika u SovjetskojUniji ("Music in Soviet Union").
We find his name on the Internet list of the victims of Jasenovac, as well as on the listof Holocaust victims in the Yad Va-shem, The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
And that is approximately all that had left after Erich Elisha Samlaich's death, withthe data I gathered from the conversations with the people who knew him: Danilo Fogel from Zemun, Alexander Sharon from Jerusalem, and Helga Ungar (neé Blau) from Naharia (Israel).
I am grateful to Jennie Lebl and Cvi Loker who enabled me to inspect this material,on the basis of which it was possible to assemble the biography of this tragically deceased musician and writer.
Erich Elisha Samlaich was born in 1913 in the village Karlovčić , near the small towns Pećinci and Ruma in the Srem region (currently in Vojvodina, Northern Serbia).The name Elisha was probably received at the ceremony of circumcision. For officialstate documents, as was the contemporary practice in Austria-Hungary to which his village belonged, he was given the name Erich. After the First World War and after thenew country – The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – had been founded, his
family moved to the town of Zemun, where his father Emanuel opened a fabric shop. Elisha was the oldest child, and he had two sisters Roza and Marija, and a brother Hugo.
Pupils of Samlaich’s generation were brought up in schools in the spirit of „integrated Yugoslavism,“ but they were also entitled to Jewish religious education as well asactivities in the Zionist youth organisation. He was the top pupil in his generation duringhis schooling in the Gymnasium in Zemun, and he also studied music in the class of Rikard Švarc in musical school Stanković in Belgrade.
He finished his studies in four years, and in 1935 he moved to Zagreb to prepare hisdoctorate about the life and work of the writer and composer Vjenceslav Novak. In Zagreb he worked as a conductor in Jewish choir Ahdut and as secretary for a monthly magazine about the Jewish culture, Omanut, which began to publish its own editions of scores and other works. He played the violin and in 1939, he married the violinist Ljerka Blau.
He wrote poetry and prose, texts about music and other topics. His compositions were performed in Zagreb, Belgrade, Zemun, Bukuresht, Jerusalem, and elsewhere.
He defended his doctoral dissertation in Belgrade in 1940. The manuscript, ready for publication, was destroyed by fire in the National Library during the bombing of Belgrade on April 6th, 1941.
Musician and writer, Jew and „integrated Yugoslav,“ citizen of Zemun and Zagreb; it was as though he was predestined for the comparison, synthesis, and transmission of different cultures.
That is confirmed by one of his earliest texts, "Sudbina Kol nidre melodije"("The Fate of the Kol Nidre Melody"), which was published in Omanut in 1936. The text provides an outline of the origin and development of this popular melody of Jewishliturgy and it also provides Samlaich’s transcriptions of the Sephardic melody from Belgrade.
Samlaich notated Sephardic religious melodies from Belgrade according to the chanting of the former rabbi in Belgrade, Shalom Russo. He gave this collection to the
Serbian-Jewish singing society (Srpsko-jevrejsko pevačko društvo, SJPD), butthe society did not succeed in having it published. However, based on thesetranscriptions, SJPD published Pizmonim for Simhat Tora in 1940, in a harmonization for mixed choir by the composer Erwin Lendvai. Although the complete collection could not be published, Samlaich was satisfied with this small publishing attempt, because his goal, as he wrote in the Zagreb journal Omanut, was "to publish the entire manuscript with allof his transcriptions, which were presented in the collection monophonically, without any accompaniment or arrangment, so that other composers will be able to use the collectedmaterial and to arrange it vocally (as I did with my Yitgadal for voice and piano) or instrumentally (my two pieces for violin and piano, all in manuscript). It is without anydoubt that in arranging these melodies, individual composers will approach this material in different ways according to their compositional technique and the point of view theyrepresent in arranging national melodies."4
Alluding to various possible Jewish and non-Jewish influnce on the forming of the melody of Kol Nidre (Byzantium, Gypsies, Marranos, Minnesingers, and ancient Hebrew) he concludes: "If our music was by any chance isolated and completely pure from any foreign influence, we should renounce it, because in that case it would not bethe reflection of all difficulties Jewish people went through."
The author was then 23 years old.
In Jevrejski kalendar ("Jewish Calendar") for the year 1936-37, he published Two traditional synagogue melodies (Maoz Cur and Adir Hu), which according to Samuel Guttmann relied on Birnbaum’s research. In this way, he enabled a wide range of readers to see their favourite religious melodies in musical notation, which was a pioneering stepin the history of Jewish music on Yugoslav territory. In a short accompanying text, he again points out various types of influence on the religious melodies, suggesting one of his basic ideas in future ethnomusicological texts: that Jewish music is always in process, in ferment, subject to the most various types of influence, although it often persistently preserves (and does not forget) its traditional roots.
Of particular interest are his comparisons between Ashkenazic and Sephardic melodies. Born in an Ashkenazic family in Zemun, a town where traditionally a
4 ES (Elisha Samlaich): Pizmonim for Simhat Tora . Omanut, Zagreb, 1940; no. 1, p. 29.
Sephardic Jewish community was also supported, he knew both movements in Judaismequally well, although it is not known if he knew both Yiddish and Ladino languages. However, from his texts it can be confirmed that he was well acquainted with the ancientHebrew languge of sacred Jewish prayer.
His text "Komparativni prilog prouč avanju naših sefardskih religioznih napjeva – 'El nora alila' motiv"("Comparative contribution to the study of our Sephardic religiousmelodies – the 'El Nora Alila' motif."Omanut 1940; no. 1, pp.1-15) represents the young author as a mature musicologist (and corresponds perfectly to the theme of this scientific assembly). In fact, it is probably the most complete text about Sephardic Jewishmusic published on the territory of the former Yugoslavia at that time. 5
The musical examples lend particular value to the text. Alongside the previously published melograpic notations of this melody from the pen of Idelsohn (Morocco),Aguilar and de Sol (London), and Rothmüller in the Edition Omanut (Sarajevo),Samlaich brings his own notation from Belgrade, as well as the notation made byTheodor Fuchs at his request in Constantinopole.
Samlaich stresses that Sephardic religious music is far more significant than popular romances for the investigation of folklore. Up to the present day, only the mostelementary works – that is, collections – have been published, and "these works have not yet been completed in the Balkans and Turkey."
"The first scientific investigation of Sephardic religious folklore showed the great diversity of the transcribed material. Sephardic religious music was influenced above all by secular romances, particulary the so-called pizmonim , as well as by folk music of neighbouring nations: Arabic music in North Africa and Turkish music in Balkan areas." Hazans , professional singers in the synagogue, incorporate these types of influence mostly into prayers during the ordinary days such as Friday and Saturday. However,
5 More serious texts about Jewish music started to appear in Yugoslavia after 1920, when Žiga Hirschler published the collection Židovske narodne pesme ("Jewish folk songs") and after the appearance of the Mesečnik jevrejskih kantora Jugoslavije (Monatsschrift der jüdischen Kantoren — "Monthly Journal of Jewish Cantors") in 1928.
during the biggest holidays ( Jamim Noraim ) the resistance of listeners to novelty was themost powerful; hence in those melodies we encounter distinctive similarities regardless of geographical distance.
The prayer El Nora Alila is one of those melodies, which is used on the most sacred day in the year, Yom Kipur, when believers just before the last prayer ask Almighty God to accept their repentance.
Comparing these melographic notations, Samlaich concludes that ’"obviously we aredealing with a motif that has its roots in the old common homeland"(referring to Spain before the year 1492), "therefore, the motif is 450 years old, and in the form that is almost the same as the form that must have been used in the old homeland ... That means that all those elements that are considered to be typical for Sephardic religious music(augmented seconds, which is not typical for Sephardic and for Ashkenazic Jews as well; eastern decoration of the tonic, etc.) are the products of the later times, and that theoldest melodies, before they were influenced by Arabic and Spanish music, must havehad their own specific tranquil and simple character."
In the text "Fantastični put jednog muzičkog uticaja"("The Fabulous Journey of a Musical Influence"– Omanut 1937-38; pp. 274-278), Samlaich’s talent as awriter and as a musician reaches to its fullest expression. Trying to explain the oriental influence that pervades Hasidic melody, 6 the author gives "an outline for a scientific study, or the subject matter for a novel.“ He tries to explain almost unbelievable path by which oriental melodies arrived from Asia Minor in present-day Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Russia during XVII and XVIII century.
"The path through which this oriental influence entered into Hasidic melody could have been completely ordinary. At annual fairs, in life's everyday contacts between Jewish and non-Jewish people which had existed despite their separation, this influence lightly and imperceptibly inserted itself. But it is permissable nonetheless to delve deeper into the mystical depths of these paths, to choose one of them, the most unusual, the most 6
6 Hasidism is a movement of the religious Jews from Eastern Europe that was founded by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer a (1698–1760), also known as Ba'al Shem Tov .
fabulous, and to follow it from its beginning to its end.“
The fantasy began a year earlier before the fateful year 1666, when the false Jewish Messiah Sabbatai Zevi (Sabetay Sevi) was awaiting the realisation of his messianic role. He had in Cairo married Sarah, a former prostitute in Amsterdam and Livorno, originally from Poland. After his messianic role was not achieved, which disappointed his numerous followers, Sabbatai Zevi converted to Islam in Constantinople. He was buried in the town of Ulcinj (Montenegro). Although she was the wife of a "Messiah,"Sarah did not renounce her earlier life style. In orgies that were moved from Livorno to Cairo, "the passionate song of the East echoes together with the monotonous lament of the pious psalms.“
Haim Malah, also known as Mehaleh, an ardent follower of Sabbatai’s teachings, nonetheless stated that the prophecy about Sabbatay being Messiah would be fulfilled in 40 years’ time, and with 1500 fanatic followers he set off from Poland to Jerusalem, there to await the fulfillment of the prophecy in 1706. His followers performed their symbolic worship in ecstatic dancing. The dance was transmitted from the house of unfortunate Messiah to his followers. The dance united with the song continued marching on the "trodden path."
Sabbatai’s sect was taken to Poland by Jakob Frank half a century later. "And now another woman appears in this infamous chronicle, his daugther Eva (Hava). Instead of fasting and mortification of the flesh, Frank’s followers propagandized immoderacy and erotic debauchery: the path towards salvation leads through the door of sin... Woman was at the center of their mystical ceremonial orgies. The lovely Eva was the main speaker. Trance, mixed with song, brought from the passionate territories of Zevi’s homeland, reached its culmination in erotic gratification and licentiousness“.
Together with his family and Eva, Frank was driven out but after 1772 he arrived in Vienna.
"Here the beautiful Eva played the last part in her life. The other partner was none other than the co-regent of Maria Theresa of Austria , her son Joseph II... Because of Joseph’s relationship with Eva, Frank had to move with his family."
The beautiful Eva died in the deepest poverty, abandoned and uncared for, in 1816. However, "the custom of worshiping God with dance and song was not lost. It was
transformed into new mystical movement born in the heart of the eastern Judaism"– Hasidism.
"If today in these wonderful Hasidic melodies we hear the tones of oriental sensuality, who can say whether it comes from the chambers of Sarah, third wife of the oriental messiah Sabbatai Zevi. "
An outline for a scientific study, or the subject matter for a novel?!"
In his conducting work, Samlaich tried to show the mysterious paths by which Jewish music and art had moved, and their identity and close connection with the people of the diaspora; for example, in the thematic concert Psalms Through the Centuries with the choir "Ahdut"(Unity) in Zagreb on 22 nd February, 1940.
We encounter this way of thinking in his compositions as well. Under the influence of Stravinsky and Bartok, Samlaich approaches ancient melodies, that he himself transcribed, with modern compositional techniques. As with Janacek, these melodies keep appearing again and again in a new modification, always in a new variant, like a journey through the vast space and time in which Jewish folk and religious music developed.
During the short period in which he published his articles (1933-40) Elisha Samlaich, although young, grew to become the most significant interpreter of Jewish music on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. His Edition Omanut , at the time of the Nazis' expansion in Europe, became the only remaining oasis of Jewish music publication on the old continent. In his texts, he points out the entire distortion of the Nazis’ racist ideology, but neither does he spare the other dangerous ideology of the time, Soviet communism (which was why he antagonized Vojislav Vučković).
However, he was unprepared for the German attack on Yugoslavia in 1941.
With his wife Ljerka, he fled from the Ustashi (Croat fascists) to Zemun, where his father had just died. But the Ustashi came there as well. Elisha and Ljerka tried in May 1942 to go to the Adriatic coast and from there escape to Italy. However, the Ustashi spotted two young people at the Sarajevo train station disguised in peasant clothing but with violins, and immediately realized that they were Jews. They sent them to the Jasenovac concentration camp. The entire family found themselves there, from Zemun as well as Zagreb, as well as Elisha’s teacher Rikard Švarc. Ustashi killed them all.
Among surviving victims of the Holocaust, a legend still circulates which tells the story of how Ustashi prepared a special orgy for Elisha in 1944. Allegedly, they made a pyre, tied him onto it, set fire to the pyre, and then they threw him a violin and shouted: "Play now, you Jew!"And he took the violin and played: Hatikva ("Hope"), the modern national anthem of Israel. And he burned with this melody at the age of 30.
The truth of this legend has been denied not only by the members of his family, but by his friends as well, and by Alexander Sharon who wrote it down. In the novel by Alexander Petrov Kao zlato u vatri ("Like Gold In Fire"), there is the shocking death scene of Monika which uncannily resembles this legend, although it is purely the writer’s fiction. Nothing has been proved, but much has been forgotten: above all, Elisha Samlaich is completely absent from every dictionary, encyclopedia and history textbook in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, as well as from concert programs.
This text represents an attempt to rescue him from oblivion.
© 2008 by Dushan Mihalek
BIBLIOGRAPHY ABOUT ERICH ELISHA SAMLAICH
Fogel, Danilo : Jevrejska zajednica u Zemunu: hronika (1739-1945) ["The Jewish Community in Zemun: chronicle"] . Zemun, 2002.
Hirschl, Mirko : Dr Erih-Elisha Samlaich (manuscript). Eventov Archive, Jerusalem; December 1955.
Klopfer, Leo: Letter to Jakir Eventov regarding Samlaich (manuscript). Eventov Archive, Jerusalem; July 16th , 1978.
Levi , Juda : Naši Jevreji u književnosti, nauci i novinarstvu, muzici, likovnoj umetnosti i glumi ["Our Jews in Literature, Science and Journalism, Music and Visual Arts and Acting"] (manuscript). Jewish History Museum, Belgrade.
Mihalek, Dušan : Sviraj sad, Čifute ["Play now, you Jew"] . Ha-Kol, Zagreb, 2004; 84, 35-39. [Published in an abridged version without author’s knowledge, approval, or proofreading.]
Polić, Branko : Židovski glazbenici – žrtve Holokausta ["Jewish musicians –The Holocaust victims"]. Novi Omanut, Zagreb, 1995; 12, 9-11.
Polić, Branko : Habent sua fata documenta – Pronađeni rukopis disertacije (1939.) Ericha Eliše Samlaića: O životu i djelu Vjenceslava Novaka ("The Discovered Manuscript of the Dissertation (1939) of Erich Elisha Samlaich: On the Life and Work of Vjenceslav Novak"). Arti Musices , Zagreb, 2006; no.1, pp.79-92.
Sharon, Aleksandar (Shanji): Erich-Elisha Samlaich . Bilten [Bulletin] Tel Aviv, 1992; no. 1, pp. 19-20. Sharon, Aleksandar : Erih-Elisha Samlaich (manuscript). Eventov Archive, Jerusalem; April 1957.
Sharon, Aleksandar (Alexander) : Zaboravljeni kompozitor ("The Forgotten Composer"). Most, Tel Aviv, 2004; no. 4, p. 34.
Vučković, Vojislav : Muzika u Sovjetskoj Uniji ["Music in The Soviet Union"] (V.Samlaich, Zagreb 1940; Edition of the bookstore А. Blau). Život i rad ["Life and work"], XIV, book. ХХХ, May-December. 1940, issue 32-39.
Review: Erih-Elisha Samlaich's Two Sephardic Songs for violin and piano. Edition "Transcontinental Music Corporation", New York. [The source from the newspaper is unknown, signed"SS".]
"Inozemna š tampa o prošlogodišnjim muzičkim izdanjima Edicije Omanut ["Foreign press about last year's musical editions from Omanut Editions"]. Omanut , Zagreb, 1937-38; pp. 63-64. [Dr. Hans Nathan from Boston about Džunaj .]
"Američki časopis o našim kompozitorima "["An American magazine on our composers"]. Omanut , Zagreb, 1937-38; p. 344. [Lazar Saminski about Samlaich.]
"Bilješke" ["Notes"]. Omanut, 1939; p. 11. [About a performance of Džunaj in Jerusalem.]
"Muzičke vijesti" ["Musical News"]. Omanut, 1940; p. 175. [About Transcontinental Editions, by Žiga Hirschler)