Edwin Ernst Moritz Geist
31. Juli 1902 in Berlin, Deutschland
10. Dezember 1942 in Kaunas Ghetto, Litauen
Lyda Bagriansky Geist was the sister of Paulius (Paul) Bagriansky. She married the composer Edwin Geist, a German half-Jew. After the German invasion of Lithuania, Edwin and Lyda were forced to move to the Kovno Ghetto. Edwin was able to get himself and then finally Lyda out of the ghetto and ordered to compose music. However on December 3, 1942, he was brought back to the ghetto on orders of the Gestapo. One week later, on December 10, he was taken to the Ninth Fort and shot. Lyda committed suicide three weeks later because she could not live without him.
Rosian Bagriansky (now Zerner) is the daughter of Paulius (Paul) Bagriansky and Gerta Chason Bagriansky. Rosian was born on October 23, 1935 in Kaunas, Lithuanian where her father was a prosperous international textile merchant. Her mother was a concert pianist and music teacher who later became the Konzertmeister of the Lithuanian Opera after the war. The day after Rosian was born her maternal grandparents, Julius and Anna (Blumenthal) Chason and aunts immigrated to Palestine to join their other aunt and uncle already there. The family lived in an apartment complex in the center of Kaunas that belonged to Rosian's paternal grandfather, who owned the first electric flour-processing factory mill in Lithuania. Paulius had purchased land in Canada and planned for the family to immigrate, but the outbreak of World War II precluded these plans from materializing. In June 1940 the Soviet Union seized control of Lithuania and the following year, on June 22, 1941 Germany launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. Two months later, the Jews of Kaunas were ordered into a ghetto. Rosian's family had previously led a privileged life iand enjoyed a 1935 Ford, chauffeur and servants. They now had to share one room and fend off starvation. Rosian's father performed electrical work with a work brigade outside the ghetto. Though the family managed to survive initial killing actions, Paulius and Gerta feared for their child. They dug a hole under the barbed wire surrounding the ghetto that was just big enough for a six-year-old child, and on January 16, 1942 Rosian escaped. Her parents used meticulous, exact timing to find a pause between the searchlights, dogs and the changing of the guards and pushed Rosian through the hole to safety. She was met on the other side by Bronia Budrekaite, her father's secretary who was also the sister-in-law of Jacob Gens, the Jewish head of the Vilna ghetto. Rosian was baptized and then later brought to the home of Natalija Fugaleviciute and Natalija Egorovna (Pawlasha), who in turn brought her to the Kulautova farm of Lidija Goluboviene, Natalija Fugaleviciute's sister. At least eight different people helped rescue Rosian, who also spent some time in an orphanage. Rosian's parents also succeeded in fleeing the ghetto. After first going to the Vilna ghetto, her father, who had been an officer in the Lithuanian army, became a partisan and her mother went into hiding. Though Rosian and her parents survived the war, thirty-seven known relatives were killed including her paternal grandparents, Zalman and Amalia Bagrianksy. After the war, the family remained for a while in Lithuania until the USSR's repatriation program allowed refugees to return to previous places of residence. Since Rosian's mother was born in Koenigsberg, Germany and had lived in Danzig, they were able to return to Danzig which was now in Poland. From there they illegally traveled through Czechoslovakia and Hungary to a displaced persons' camp in Gratz, Austria in the Ursulinenkloster. Hoping eventually to immigrate to Israel, they then continued on to Italy. Since Rosian's parents had no way of supporting her, Rosian went to the children's home in Selvino and then to a Kibbutz Hachshara in Avigliano where she trained to join the Haganna. Her parents stayed in Milan, and in 1946 Gerta gave birth to a son Joachim (Jack). After her father was financially secure, Rosian rejoined them in Milan and attended the ballet school of La Scala. In 1951 they immigrated to the United States, arriving in October 1951. Rosian later attended Barnard College and Columbia University, married and had two sons and four grandchildren. Four of her rescuers, Lidija Goluboviene, Natalija Fugaleviciute, Natalija Egorova and Helene Holzman were later honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous among Nations.
Locale: Kaunas, Lithuania; Kovno; Kowno
Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Rosian Zerner
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
|Der Komponist wurde am 31. Juli 1902 in Berlin geboren und lebte dort, bis er wegen des Naziregimes 1939 nach Litauen ging. Am 10.
Dezember 1942 wurde er von der Gestapo in Kaunas (Ghetto) erschossen.
Edwin Geist war von der Idee besessen, mit einem neuartigen „Musikschauspiel“, in dem der Text gleichberechtigt neben der Melodie stehen soll, die Oper zu erneuern.
In den zwanziger Jahren hatte er temporäre Posten als Korrepetitor in Stettin und als Kapellmeister in Zürich inne; daneben kleinere Kompositionen und musiktheoretische Abhandlungen - bis 1937 die Reichsmusikkammer dem „Halbjuden“ jede weitere Betätigung in seinem Beruf untersagte. Wenig später setzte er sich in das damals unabhängige Litauen ab und heiratete im Jahr darauf die litauische Pianistin Lyda Bagriansky. Ein Requiem entstand, Tanzpantomimen, Musikschauspiele, Lieder. Dass sein letztes Werk, ein Trio, das Datum des 9. Juni 1941 trägt, ist kein Zufall. Denn wenige Tage später brach mit dem Einmarsch der deutschen Wehrmacht am 22. Juni 1941 der Schrecken in Litauen ein.
In kaum einem ordentlichen Musiklexikon ist der Komponist verzeichnet. Nur im infamen „Lexikon der Juden in der Musik“ findet man den Namen des „halbjüdischen“ Berliner Komponisten Edwin Geist.
Der Autor Reinhard Kaiser ging auf Spurensuche. In seinem Buch „Unerhörte Rettung“ (erschienen 2004 im Schöffling Verlag) hat er die abenteuerliche Geschichte des Musikers aufgeschrieben. Das Buch fand breite Resonanz bei Presse und Radiosendern, nur Geists Musik blieb weiter unbekannt. Außerdem erschien bereits 2002 beim litauischen Verlag Baltos Lankos „Für Lyda“, das Tagebuch, welches Edwin Geist für seine Frau, die im jüdischen Ghetto in Kaunas gefangen war, geschrieben hatte.
Schon in den 1970er Jahren hat sich der litauische Dirigent Juozas Domarkas,
bis heute künstlerischer Leiter der Philharmonie in Vilnius, der die
Notenmanuskripte Geists aufbewahrte, darum bemüht, die Musik dieses
interessanten Komponisten in Litauen bekannt zu machen. Zuletzt realisierte
er eine Aufführung des Musikschauspiels „Die Heimkehr des Dionysos“ (in
litauischer Übersetzung der Sprechszenen) in Vilnius zum 100. Geburtstag des
Komponisten im Jahr 2002. In Deutschland ebenso wie in anderen Ländern
außerhalb Litauens ist die Musik Edwin Geists bisher leider völlig unbekannt
|1919||Skizzen zur Faustmusik||(Sonstiges)|
|1928||Drei Lieder für Bariton und Solo-Violine,
Entstehungszeit: Zürich, 1928
1. Tagesanbruch (Gustav Falke),
2. Abbild (Peter Hille),
3. Durch die Nacht (Richard Dehmel)
|1933||Der seltsame Abend nach einem Gedicht von
Hugo Salus, für Sopran, Violine, Viola und Violoncello,
datiert Berlin, 1. Mai 1933.
|1933||Zwei Lieder nach Conrad Ferdinand Meyer für
gemischten Chor, Kinderchor, Blechbläser und Pauke,
1. Chor der Toten. Entstehungszeit: datiert Berlin-Friedenau 24. April 1933,
2. Schnitterlied. datiert Berlin-Friedenau, 27. Apr. 1933.
|1934||Drei Gesänge der Apolloneia mit Klavier||(Lied) Klavier|
|1934||Ode des Teiresias mit Klavier oder Orchester||(Lied) Klavier / Orchester|
|1936||Ich finde dich in allen Dingen nach Rainer
Maria Rilke, für eine hohe Stimme und Streichorchester (oder Orgel – ad
datiert Berlin-Friedenau, 4. Jan. 1936.
|(Lied) Klavier / Orchester|
|1938||Die Heimkehr des Dionysos, Musikschauspiel
in 3 Akten (7 Bildern), Dichtung und Musik von Edwin Geist,
Datum der Fertigstellung: Berlin-Friedenau, 10. Febr. 1938.
|1939||Apollinisch-dionysische Tanzpantomime (des
III. Aktes) aus dem Musikschauspiel „Die Heimkehr des Dionysos“,
für großes Orchester und Orgel ad libitum, nachkomponierte Szene, Entstehungszeit: Kaunas, 1939.
|1939/40||Drei litauische Lieder nach Gedichten von
Benediktas Rutkunas für eine mittlere Stimme und Orchester oder Klavier,
deutsche Nachdichtung von Horst Engert,
1. Schwerer Abend (mit Streichorchester). Nach einer Sutartine für eine mittlere Stimme und Streichorchester oder Klavier (ad libitum Orgel), datiert Kaunas, 12. Juni 1939,
2. Seeballade (mit kleinem Orchester), datiert Kaunas, 25. Mai 1940,
3. Dynamik des Frühlings (mit großem Orchester), datiert Kaunas, 27. Mai 1940.
|(Lied) Klavier / Orchester|
|1940||Kleine deutsche Totenmesse (Requiem) für
Orchester, Sopran- und Tenorsolo, Knabenstimmen und gemischten Chor,
datiert Kaunas, 7. September 1940, Widmung: „In memoriam: 23.1.1940, Berlin“ [= Todesdatum der Mutter von Edwin Geist].
1. Chor der Toten an die Lebenden,
2. Totentanz (Orchesterzwischenspiel),
3. Im Volkston (Wie sollte ich nicht weinen...),
4. Fugato (Ewig kreisen hier die Fernen...),
5. Chor der Lebenden an die Toten
datiert: Kaunas, November 1940.
|1941||Aus Litauen für kleines Orchester,
datiert Kaunas, 9. Juni 1941.
1. Introduktion (Pastorale),
2. Fugierter Marsch (Allegro marciale, quasi Rondo fugato)
|1942||Kosmischer Frühling. Adagio aus dem
Tanzlegendchen für Violine, Violoncello und Klavier als Trio bearbeitet vom
datiert Kaunas, Juli 1942.
|?||Tanzpantomime für Klavier
(für seiner Frau Lyda gewidmet)
Bearbeitung der Apollinisch-dionysischen Tanzpantomime des III. Aktes aus dem Musikschauspiel
|1942||Das Tanzlegendchen. Eine symphonische
Pantomime (Mysterienspiel) in einem Akt (2 Bildern) frei nach Gottfried
Kellers „Die sieben Legenden“,
unvollendet, Bleistiftskizze, im Ghetto begonnen, mit zahlreichen Streichungen und Korrekturen in zehn dünnen Notenheften, März – Mai 1942.
Incredible Rescue. The Search for Edwin Geist
Schöffling & Co., March 2004.
360 pp. with photos and illustrations
In December 1942, in the Lithuanian town of Kaunas, a composer from Berlin (a
"half-Jew" in Nazi terminology) is murdered: Edwin Geist. Having been banned
from his profession as composer by the corresponding Nazi-authorities in Germany
he left for Lithuania in 1938 and made a rare sight there: a happy emigrant. For
in Kaunas he not merely found refuge and new creative opportunities, but also
Lyda - the woman he fell in love with and married in 1939.
Who was this composer Edwin Geist (31. Juli 1902 in Berlin), who managed to escape from the Jewish ghetto when the Germans were starting to organise the large-scale murder of Jews in Lithuania? Who, even more remarkably, managed to free his Jewish wife, whom he so much adored, from the ghetto as well, through official channels even?
Reinhard Kaiser set out on a quest for any trail left by the composer Geist and traveled Germany, Lithuania, and Switzerland. He interviewed the few eye-witnesses who still have vivid recollections of Geist and his wife and unearthed documents rich in information. This book actually tells the story of two incredible rescues: first, Lyda's rescue from the ghetto in the midst of the general terror, this hard fought-for rescue that allowed them at least a few more months of living together; second, the adventurous tale of the posthumous recovery of Geist's artistic legacy.
2002 saw the world premiere of an opera the composer had been working on in his Lithuanian exile. Geist himself was never to see this work performed: all he had heard of it was what he played for himself and others on the piano, or whistled to himself in the Kaunas ghetto.
Review for "Tempo" (2006)
Only twenty years ago the literature on what has since become known as
‘Entartete Musik – rather counterproductively, suggesting that most
English-speakers don’t realise the label propagates the Nazi notion of
‘degenerate music’ – was thin in any language: there was a handful of studies of
music-life under the Nazis (chief among them Fred K. Prieberg’s Musik im
NS-Staat, published in 1982) and that was more or less it. Since then Nazi
cultural policy and its effects on the musicians who came under its ambit has
become one of the growth areas of musicology, each subsequent publication
nonetheless indicating how much more work remains to be done. Hardly a month
passes without another forgotten composer finally bobbing back up to the surface
– most recently Marcel Tyberg (born in Vienna in1893 and dead, by suicide, in a
transport from Abbazia to the camps in 1943), whose music has begun to percolate
through to performance in the unlikely locale of Buffalo, in upstate New York.
Another such composer is Erwin Geist, whose name was news to me with the publication of Reinhard Keiser’s remarkable Unerhörte Rettung (‘Unheard-of Rescue’ – an odd title, in view of Kaiser’s discoveries). In 1995, researching for an earlier book Köningskinder, Kaiser met Margarete Holzman, who had settled in Giessen with her mother, Helena, after emigrating from Soviet Lithuania in 1965. Geist had been a frequent visitor chez the Holzmans when Margarete was a child; Helena’s memoirs, which Kaiser helped bring to publication in 2000, recall Geist and his Lithuanian wife, Lyda. But there seemed to be no published trace of the composer, bar two contemporary references: two-line entries in Hans Brückner’s and Christa Rock’s Judentum und Musik (1935) und in Theo Stengl’s and Herbert Gerigk’s Lexikon der Juden in der Musik (1940), which offered the briefest outline of a life now apparently lost from view: ‘Geist, Edwin Erst Moritz (H), *Berlin 31.7.1902, Komp, MSch, KM – Berlin’ – the abbreviations indicating that he was a half-Jew, composer, writer on music, conductor.
Kaiser’s book is as much detective story as anything else. Using the few documentary references available to him and fleshing them out with the fruits of the further enquiries they allowed him, he traces Geist’s early career through appointments as Korrepetitor in Stettin (1924–25) and Zurich (1928–29) – where Kaiser came across an unsuspected first marriage, to an Alexandra Rasumowsky, whose daughters, located through the Zurich telephone book, still held their mother’s photograph albums, containing numerous, hitherto-unknown pictures of Geist. His earliest surviving composition – the song Tagesanbruch (‘Daybreak’) for baritone and violin – dates from the time of this Zurich appointment. Geist seems to have been teaching in Berlin in the early 1930s, though there’s no documentation of any activity at the main music colleges (the Hochschule für Musik and the Stern Conservatory). Helena Holzman writes of an opera having its first performance in Berlin in 1934 – privately, obviously, since the Nazis would not have permitted a public airing, unless in the Jüdischer Kulturbund; it may have been his Musikschauspiel (‘musical play’) Der Golem, now lost, since it is the only work of Geist’s mentioned in the Lexikon der Juden in der Musik.
As far as he can, Kaiser documents the appearance of Geist’s works, quoting his own retrospective commentary, written in Lithuania in 1942. Although a letter from Peter Raabe at the Reichsmusikkammer dated 8 October 1937 (Kaiser reproduces it) directly forbade any further composition, Geist had continued to work on another Musikschauspiel, the three-act Die Heimkehr des Dionysos (‘The Return of Dionysus’), written to his own libretto; it was completed on 10 February 1938. It seems to have been around then that he visited friends in Kaunas (Kovno), then the capital of Lithuania – Kaiser wonders whether the connection might have been the composer Vladas Jakubėnas, who studied with Schreker in Berlin in 1928–32 before returning home. There Geist met Lyda Bagriansky, whom he wed in June 1939 – not, apparently, a contrivance to allow him to stay in the country: they seem to have been devoted to each other, and the marriage stimulated him to further composition.
The happiness was obviously to be short-lived. The Soviet occupation of Lithuania followed the outbreak of war within a year, but the Russians seem to have approved of Geist’s public music-making, conducting and composing: his music was broadcast at the time. News of the death of his mother in January 1940 prompted the writing of a Kleine deutsche Totenmesse (patently not for public consumption in Soviet Lithuania). Two orchestral works followed: a concert overture Antaeos and Aus Litauen, consisting of a pastorale and a fugal march, the last work to which Feist appended a date – 9 June 1941. Two weeks later the Germans invaded his adoptive country, home to some 160,000 Jews, around 7% of the population; the 30–40,000 who lived in Kaunas accounted for around a quarter of the population of the city. Within six months half of Kaunas’ Jews had been murdered (mostly at the Ninth Fort, part of the old Tsarist defensive network outside the town, where even now you sense the pall of death: no birds sing) and the rest had been sealed into the ghetto. From there Geist and his wife found themselves sent out in forced-labour groups, first to help build the airport, Lyda working in the kitchens, Edwin on the sanitation.
She seems to have withstood the privations of ghetto life better than he, also understanding that, as a half-Jew, he would be released if he were to divorce her, and she urged this course of action on him. Although he initially refused, he eventually acceded to the idea and was able to leave the ghetto late in March 1942. He had begun a ‘symphonic pantomime’, Das Tanzlegendchen, in the ghetto and now continued its composition, recording its progress and his thoughts in a ‘Diary for Lyda’. He survived by teaching – German as well as music – and with the help of friends. Improbably, he also managed to engineer Lyda’s release from the ghetto by ‘proving’ she was three-quarters Aryan, arranging one of the movements, an Adagio entitled ‘Cosmic Spring’, from Das Tanzlegendchen for piano trio to mark the occasion. Their relief was short-lived: on 3 December, on the pretext of some confusion in his papers, Geist was re-arrested and brought back to the ghetto. Exactly a week later he was removed to the Ninth Fort and shot. On 10 January, rather than turn up at the police station as she had been ordered, Lyda poisoned herself.
In the Communist East the name of Edwin Geist (rendered Edvinas Geistas in Lithuanian) was remembered – misremembered, rather, since he was presented as a German anti-fascist, not a Jewish victim of the Nazis – in a 1972 play and 1973 concert. Die Heimkehr des Dionysos was first performed only in June 2002, in the Russian Theatre in Vilnius – in a Lithuania which is making sincerer efforts than its Polish neighbour to reclaim its Jewish past.
Kaiser closes his book with a chronology, a list of Geist’s compositions, surviving and lost, and of the tiny handful of recordings that have been made, none of them commercial. But there is no attempt at stylistic analysis of Geist’s music, not even mere description, no assessment of his importance, so that – human considerations apart – one doesn’t know how much of a loss Edwin Geist may have been. Kaiser doesn’t even attempt an evaluation of Die Heimkehr des Dionysos, recorded in 2002, after all; and the audiobook version of Helena Holzman’s memoirs contains an extract from the Kleine deutsche Totenmesse – he wouldn’t have had to read the scores. A Lithuanian musician-friend described Dionysos as ‘a lot of pathetics’ and sent me a CD-R of the Overture to support that judgement. And it’s true that, though it may support the action on stage, Geist’s music seems here to enjoy the grand gesture but betray little personality: it opens rather as dissonant Prokofiev (with echoes of ‘The Death of Tybalt’) and continues as an angular, watered-down blend of Stravinsky, Falla, Hindemith, Bruckner, Mahler and Bartók – abreast of contemporary developments but with no real harmonic identity to cement those diverse constituent elements together. Yet this is no basis on which to weigh a man’s worth. Kaiser’s book deserves translation (and could well furnish a compelling film-script) but an English version must not stop short of a chapter examining the music itself.
Edwin Geist: Für Lyda. Tagebuch 1942.
Published by Jokubas Skliutauskas
Baltos Lankos Verlag, Vilnius und Kaunas 2002
In 1937 Edwin Geist was prohibited from writing music by the Nazi authorities. It was the Nazis' intention that Geist, a German composer whose father was Jewish, should never write another note. Instead Geist emigrated to Lithuania. There, spurred on by his wife and muse, Lyda, he continued to compose. Yet Geist's days of freedom were numbered. After Germany declared war on the Soviet Union, Edwin and Lyda were interned in the Karnau ghetto. But then the unheard of happened. Geist was released and was allowed to resume his composing. Once free, he set about the task of saving Lyda. By forging documents and obtaining false testimonies, Edwin was able to convince the Nazis that his Jewish wife was of half Ayran descent. Astonishingly Lyda was permitted to rejoin her husband. It seemed too good to be true. Less than four months later, Geist was rearrested and shot (10 décembre 1942). Lyda committed suicide soon afterwards.
Until recently Edwin Geist and his music had been all but forgotten. In Unerhörte Rettung Reinard Kaiser pieces together the extraordinary story of the composer, while also shedding light on the difficulty of writing about a man who is only known through fragmentary sources. Drawing on memoirs, photographs and Nazi records as well as on Geist's remarkable diary, Kaiser paints a fascinating portrait of a highly talented but self-centred man, who was careless in what he said and indiscrete in his friendships. Tragically his complete inability to see what was going on around him led him to risk his own life and to jeopardize the safety of others. To the last Geist believed in his musical calling. His refusal to give up composing may have cost him his life.
Kaiser's book is both affecting and utterly gripping. Combining biography with literary detective work, it provides a poignant account of the life and death of a gifted musician whose story and music deserve to be heard. In the Karnau ghetto, Geist had to content himself with singing and whistling his melodies. Over sixty years later, the world premiere of one of his operas finally took place.