Herbert Zipper, Viennese conductor
Founder Of Secret Orchestra at Dachau
By Dinitia Smith
Published: April 23, 1997
Herbert Zipper, who as an inmate at Dachau started a secret orchestra and with
a friend composed a song that became an anthem of the death camps, died of lung cancer on
Monday April 21, 1997 at St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
He was 92, said his niece, Lucy Horowitz.
Mr. Zipper, whose life was the subject of ''Never Give Up,'' a documentary
that was nominated for an Academy Award last year, was born in 1904 in
Hapsburg, Vienna, the son
of a prosperous engineer and inventor.
His family moved in intellectual circles, and he studied at the Vienna Music Academy with Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss. As a young man, he worked as a conductor and composed music for the Viennese cabaret.
In the spring of 1938, Mr. Zipper was arrested by the Austrian police. He was handed over to the SS and sent to Dachau, near Munich, and given the job of pushing cartloads of stone.
He found himself in the company of other musicians, including members of the Munich Philharmonic. The musicians began scavenging for bits of wood and metal to make instruments.
At one point, Mr. Zipper asked a sympathetic guard for wire and later found it hidden under his pillow. The inmates were able to fashion 11 instruments in all, some of them only hollow boxes bound in tight string.
They formed an orchestra, playing regular Sunday afternoon concerts for the other prisoners in an abandoned outhouse. The ensemble was never discovered.
At Dachau, Mr. Zipper was reunited with a friend from Vienna, Jura Soyfer, a playwright, and the two composed ''Dachau Song.'' Gradually, through word of mouth, the song spread to other camps.
Mr. Soyfer died of typhus, and in September 1938 Mr. Zipper was sent to Buchenwald. Before Hitler devised his plan for mass executions, some Jews were still able to buy their way out of the camps, and in February 1939 Mr. Zipper's father secured his release.
From Buchenwald, Mr. Zipper went to Paris, and then on to the Philippines, where his fiancee Trudl Dubsky, a Viennese ballerina, had fled. There, the two married.
Mr. Zipper became the director of the Manila Symphony, but in early 1942,
the Japanese invaded, and he was imprisoned once again, this time for refusing
to conduct the symphony for occupying forces. ''He hid the instruments just
outside of town,'' said Paul Cummins, who wrote a 1992 biography of Mr.
Zipper, ''Dachau Song.''
Mr. Zipper was interned by the Japanese for four months. After his release, he began working secretly for American forces under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, sending them information about Japanese shipping by shortwave radio.
When the Japanese were defeated in 1945, Mr. Zipper conducted a celebratory concert of Beethoven's ''Eroica'' and Dvorak's ''New World'' symphonies in the bombed-out ruins of Manila's Santa Cruz church.
In 1946, he came to the United States, where he was a founder and the
conductor of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Zipper had a lifelong
interest in music education, and while living in Brooklyn, he began giving
free concerts to public school children. He also collaborated with the poet
Langston Hughes on an opera, ''Barrier.''
In 1953, he moved to Chicago. He founded the Music Center of the North Shore in Winnetka, Ill., and the National Guild of Community Music Schools, which promotes music education.
Mr. Zipper moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and became projects director of the School of Performing Arts of the University of California at Los Angeles. For the past 20 years, he has conducted concerts for children in the Los Angeles public school system. He conducted his last concert on April 23, 1996.
He is survived by a nephew, Henry Holt of Virginia, and a niece, Lucy Horowitz of Boston.