Richly researched and partly told by some of today’s top-flight musicians, “Orchestra of Exiles” retraces the world-renowned violinist Bronislaw Huberman’s heroic feat of organizing an orchestra far from the genocidal scourge of the Nazis. While this documentary from Josh Aronson fleshes out every twist in the endeavor with a letter, a reflection or an anecdote, it lacks the storyteller’s sleight of hand that lifts a narrated chronology into something that moves.
Already safely re-established abroad as an international star, the Polish-born Huberman turned his idealistic energies on a project that grew ever more urgent in the 1930s. Through his energetic efforts the forced exodus of Jewish musicians from Europe made for a new musical dream team in 1936, the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, ultimately conducted by his fellow objector Arturo Toscanini. (It later became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.)
Cultural pride and the near-certain prospect of his colleagues’ death drove Huberman into becoming a savior, perhaps recalling his teenage role as bread-winning child prodigy. And “Orchestra of Exiles” demonstrates the very concrete way in which culture is preserved and maintained, with transmission and human survival becoming intertwined realities.
Yet Mr. Aronson, who received an Academy Award nomination for his 2000 documentary about the deaf, “Sound and Fury,” gets bogged down in logistical detail and relies on the dubious techniques of letters read aloud in foreign-accented voice-over and static, costumed re-enactments. Nonetheless “Orchestra of Exiles” aspires to a level of primary research that other historical documentaries could take a page from.
Featuring Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman,
Joshua Bell and others, Orchestra of Exiles is the suspenseful
chronicle of how one man helped save Europe’s premiere Jewish musicians from
obliteration by the Nazis during WWII.
In the early 1930’s Hitler began firing Jewish musicians across Europe. Overcoming extraordinary obstacles, violinist Bronislaw Huberman moved these great musicians to Palestine and formed a symphony that would become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. With courage, resourcefulness and an entourage of allies including Arturo Toscanini and Albert Einstein, Huberman saved close to 1000 Jews - along with the musical heritage of Europe.
Published: October 25, 2012
Some stories get lost in the turmoil of their times. It is often only in retrospect that we can discover the true shapers of history. One such man is the prodigious Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman. Orchestra of Exiles explores this great man's 4-year odyssey, which culminates in the founding of the orchestra that would become the Israel Philharmonic. His fascinating story touches many of the major themes of the 20th century and the unfolding drama of his life is riveting. During the darkest days of a Europe being torn apart by anti- Semitism and Nazi aggression, Huberman's extraordinary efforts saved hundreds of Jewish families from the approaching holocaust and his achievements changed the landscape of cultural history. Before the Nazis came to power Huberman was focused only on building his own monumental career but witnessing Hitler's agenda was a call to action that Huberman could not ignore. Huberman's personal transformation and subsequent heroic struggle to get Jewish musicians out of Europe to found this orchestra
How Europe’s top violinist saved hundreds from Hitler to build an ‘orchestra of exiles’
A documentary opening in New York Friday explores the extraordinary but little-known story of Bronislaw Huberman, the heroic,
self-effacing ‘Jewish Schindler’ who created the Israel Philharmonic
By Matt Lebovic
October 26, 2012, 5:33 pm
Remembered by supporters as the Oskar Schindler of Jewish musicians, famed violinist Bronislaw Huberman devoted three years to assembling Jewish instrumentalists fired by the Nazis to form what eventually became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Founded in 1936 as the Palestine Symphony, the orchestra, first conducted by Arturo Toscanini, debuted after a struggle that also involved Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann and a characteristically defiant David Ben-Gurion.
Huberman’s epic quest is the subject of the new documentary “Orchestra of Exiles,” a real-life tale of Jewish musicians in need of a home, and a nascent country in need of an orchestra. Oscar-nominated Josh Aronson directed and produced “Exiles” based on a script he compiled during three years of researching thousands of documents related to Huberman’s life.
Opening Friday in New York and November 2 in LA, the documentary follows Huberman from his years as a child prodigy to the premiere of the Palestine Symphony just before World War II. Deeply influenced by the brutality and radicalism of World War I, Huberman built a career as Europe’s top violinist, a performer favored by royal houses but keenly attuned to anti-Semitism and the gathering storm of fascism.
As the documentary recounts, Huberman’s labor of love was beset by crises from the get-go, ranging from the 1936 Arab riots against Jews in Palestine to securing permission for musicians to leave Europe. Although the Germans had yet to occupy any of Europe in 1936, Nazi racial laws imitated across the continent had already banned Jews from cultural professions.
Despite the tense atmosphere, some Jewish musicians were unconvinced by Huberman’s warnings of imminent catastrophe, and chose to remain in familiar Vienna, Budapest and Amsterdam instead of moving to a Jewish state-in-the-making under siege.
For Huberman, the mission to create a Jewish orchestra of “exiles” was in part about the physical rescue of 70 Jewish musicians and more than 900 of their family members; however, the constantly imperiled project also held powerful symbolic meaning for Huberman, a humanist virtuoso committed to taking a stand against the Nazis.
Aronson’s documentary revisits a number of key moments in the symphony’s early years, including Ben-Gurion’s initial opposition and later change of heart; its tours of Egypt and Allied base camps during World War II; and members’ performance of Israel’s national anthem after the declaration of statehood.
Since 1948, the IPO has performed in dozens of countries and partnered with the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Many current IPO musicians are the grandchildren of founding members rescued by Huberman, or students of those musicians.
In a telephone conversation with The Times of Israel, Aronson — an Oscar nominee for the 2000 documentary “Sound and Fury” — discussed Huberman’s underappreciated legacy, whether the Schindler comparisons are accurate, and the famed violinist’s joking relationship with Albert Einstein.
A trimmed, condensed transcript of the interview appears below.
Why is this amazing rescue story not well-known outside musical circles in Israel?
Aronson’s film revisits a number of key moments in the symphony’s early years, including David Ben-Gurion’s initial opposition and later change of heart
Filmmaker Josh Aronson, seen directing a young actor in a re-enactment, hopes his film will have a long afterlife in schools and other educational settings. (Photo credit: Irina Tubbecke via First Run Features)
Largely because Huberman was not a man who relished being acknowledged, his efforts are not well-known. When I asked cab drivers in Tel Aviv who Huberman and Toscanini were, the universal response was they are streets near the Mann Auditorium. But Huberman was a man who saved 1,000 Jews from the Nazis, and was the best-known violinist of his day. He stopped performing in Germany the same day Hitler came to power, and spent years trying to convince other musicians to follow his example. Eventually, all the Jewish musicians were kicked out anyway, which is why Huberman was able to assemble them to enact his fantasy of creating a Jewish philharmonic in Palestine.
What was it like making this film, from a Jewish perspective?
All of my family came to the states by 1917, well before [World War II], from Russia. As a Jew, I never had the courage to do deep research about the Holocaust. It was just too painful. But it was important for me to do this as a Jew. It was time. Making this film was a joy for me. I got to meet the “aristocracy” of Israel — all these octogenarians who were around in the ’30s and remember Zionism in its heyday. It was clear to them that the Jews needed a place. This project was a labor of love for me, and also my wife, whose violin playing can be heard in the [re-enacted] scenes with the child Huberman. We’re also excited to be opening the film in partnership with the Israel Philharmonic’s 28th tour in the United States.
You’ve been making documentaries for more than a decade, and this is your first film to make use of archival footage and re-creations. How has your experience with “Exiles” influenced your future projects?
I’m very comfortable in the documentary world. I like telling real stories about real people and developing my own projects from as close to scratch as possible. Each film takes me in new directions I could not have predicted. I’ve made three films about transsexuals, for instance. We went through thousands of documents in many languages to make this film. I need my projects to hold my attention and contain my passion.
As for Einstein’s musical abilities, Huberman used to joke, ‘He can’t count!’
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
We are hoping the long life of this film will be in schools and educational settings. We want young people to see Huberman and Toscanini as role models who showed it was possible to stand up to intolerance. Huberman is someone who came to his worldview and moral outlook on his own, after a childhood of constant pressure from an abusive father. He became a public symbol for protest, delivering speeches and fundraising for his orchestra in the United States. I hope the message is that this was someone who cared, and dared to raise international attention about the Nazi menace. He was also someone deeply committed to the next generation, and required the orchestra’s founding members to recruit and teach new musicians.
How do you respond to comparisons of Huberman to Oskar Schindler, in that both men experienced personal transformations through rescuing European Jews?
I’ve always seen this as a Schindler-type story, except that Huberman, unlike Schindler, was Jewish. A lot of the [funding] foundations I approached for support on this film connected with this aspect of the story, especially that is was a Jew who led these efforts. To me, this offset the more typical narrative of Jews being sent to their deaths “like sheep to the slaughter,” as they said then. But like the Schindler story, Huberman’s life was also filled with humor and relationships and deep connections to people as fellow human beings. Huberman sometimes read music and played violin with Albert Einstein, who also tried to alert the world to Nazism. As for Einstein’s musical abilities, Huberman used to joke, “He can’t count!” Huberman was a man very comfortable in high society who risked everything to make a statement on behalf of art and his fellow Jews.
Read more on: Bronislaw Huberman, IPO Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra of Exiles, Arturo Toscanini, Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, Josh Aronson
ORCHESTRA OF EXILES conveys the story of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and its founder, Bronislaw Huberman. The film includes commentary from Pinchas Zukerman, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell. It tells the compelling story of one man's vision and the struggles of Jewish musicians against Nazism. In 1933, Hitler began forcing Jews out of the great European orchestras and Huberman recognized his opportunity. Never before had so many experienced players been jobless simultaneously. Huberman felt that the Jewish musicians should not be punished because of their religion, and that the musicians must continue to play for the entire world to hear. The Nazis unwittingly presented a unique opportunity and with the short window of time still available, Huberman dedicated himself to fulfilling a dream. The Palestine Orchestra debuted on December 26, 1936 and was renamed the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1948.
Written by Josh Aronson
Boris Rogoff, second violin. Philharmonic Orchestra Buenos Aires
Felix Galimir, first violin. Leader of the Galimir Quartett and of the Vienna Concert-Orchestra
David Grünschlag, first violin. Vienna Concert-Orchestra
Heinrich Haftel, first violin. Vienna Concert-Orchestra
Alfred Lunger, first violin. Vienna Concert-Orchestra
Lotte Hammerschlag, viola. Leader, Vienna Concert-Orchestra
Renée Galimir, viola. Member of Galimir Quartett
Dr. Hans Levitus, clarinet. First Clarinet, National Theatre Linz
Gustav Totzler, tuba. Orchester-Verein, Vienna
Szlomo Bor, second violin. Symphony Orchestra Prague
Oskar Heller, trombone. National Theatre Kosice
Schulamith Silber-Chajes, first violin. Broadcasting Orchestra Paris
Ben Ami Silber, second violin. Broadcasting Orchestra Paris
Aszer Borochow, second violin. Orchestra Cortôt Paris
Rudolf Bergmann, leader, first violin. Leader, Municipal Orchestra, Wiesbaden; New Opera, Hamburg
Basia Polischuk, first violin. Leader, Jüdische Kulturbund, Berlin
Andreas Weissgerber, first violin. Germany (immigrated to Palestine 1933).
Klecki Mnasza, second violin. Gewandthaus Leipzig
Harry Blumberg, viola. Berlin String Quartet
Jacob Bernstein, cello. Leader, Philharmonic Orchestra Stockholm; Leipzig Symphony Orchestra
Ary Schuyer, cello. Leader, Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra
Albert Katz, cello. Leader, Leipzig Symphony Orchestra
Josef Weissgerber, cello. Germany (immigrated to Palestine 1933).
Ernst Boehm, bass. Leader, Broadcasting Orchestra Cologne; Orchestra Jüdische Kulturbund, Frankfurt a. M.
Salomon Engelsman, flute. First flute, Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra
Erich Toeplitz, flute. Orchestra Jüdische Kulturbund, Frankfurt a. M.
Heinrich Zimmermann, clarinet. First Clarinet, Orchestra Jüdische Kulturbund, Frankfurt a. M.; Municipal Orchestra Wiesbaden
Horst Salomon, horn. First Horn, Orchestra Jüdische Kulturbund, Berlin
Wolf Sprecher, horn. Opera and Municipal Orchestra Saarbrücken
Mischa Rakier, trumpet. Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra; Municipal Orchestra Saarbrücken
Heinrich Schiefer, trombone. First Trombone, Orchestra Jüdische Kulturbund, Berlin
Kurt Sommerfeld, timpani. Berlin Kulturbund Orchestra
Mordechai Pinski, bass. Professor at the Conservatory of Music in Tiflis (Tblisi, Georgia, today, in 1936, part of Russia).
Lorand Fényves, first violin. Second Leader, Budapest Concert-Orchestra and Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Alice Fényves, viola. Budapest Municipal Orchestra
Dr. Laszlo Vincze, cello. Leader, Budapest Concert-Orchestra
Tibor Silk, horn. First Horn, Budapest Concert-Orchestra
Adolfo Farnesi, bass. Leader, Broadcasting Orchestra Rome
Hans Sachs, trumpet. First Trumpet, Orchestra Municipale San Remo
Israel Segall, timpani. Symphony Orchestra and Opera, Riga
Salomon van den Berg, oboe. “Residenz-Orchestra” The Hague.
Louis Staal, clarinet. First Clarinet, Haag’sche Symphony Orchestra
Josef Samson de Groen, bassoon. First Bassoon, Philharmonic Orchestra Groningen
Mieczyslaw Fliederbaum, first violin. Leader, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Jacob Surowcz, second violin. Leader, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Moszek Lewak, second violin. Leader, Philharmonic Lodz
Mosze Sztyglic, second violin. Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Alfred Ginzbarg, second violin. Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Liftman Boruch, second violin. Opera Warsaw
Pelssach Ginzbarg, viola. Leader, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Bloeslaw Ginbarg, cello. Leader, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Abraham Wenger, bass. Leader, Philharmonic Orchestra Lodz
Leon Szulc, bassoon. First Bassoon, Vienna State Opera; Professor of the Warsaw Conservatory
Bronislaw Szulc, horn. Frist Horn, Warsaw Opera; Professor of the Warsaw Conservatory; Conductor of the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow and the Lodz Philharmonic Orchestra
Zwi Feldmann, trumpet. Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Michal Podemski, trombone. First Trombone, Philharmonic Orchestra Lodz
Bronzislaw Ginzbarg, timpani. Broadcasting Orchestra Warsaw
Seew Mirkin, bass. Leader, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (today’s St. Petersburg)
Dea Gombrich, first violin. Adolf Busch Chamber-Orchestra
Jaroslaw Front, viola. Leader, Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera, Zagreb. (Yugoslavia in 1936)
Marek Rak, first violin. Leader, Lemberg Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera (Lemberg is now Lviv in Ukraine)
Jacob Shumer, flute. First flute, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Josef Marx, oboe. First oboe, Symphony Orchestra Dayton, Ohio; Broadcasting Station Cincinnati, Ohio
No associations given in program
Joseph Bernstein, first violin
Raja Berson, second violin
Selmar Chasin, second violin
Dora Loeb, viola
Chaim Bor, viola
Adolfo Odnoposoff, cello
Chaim Bodenstajn, cello