Opera Singers Who Died in the Holocaust July 09 2021

On 30 January 1933, life changed for every German citizen and

Louis Treumann in The Bartered Bride

for some, very dangerously indeed. Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party was declared the only legal political entity in Germany, and they began to put their plans in place for segregating everyone who did not fit their "Aryan" ideal.

These people were removed from their professions, their homes, and as the decade progressed, millions were eliminated altogether, dying in extermination camps.

For the Jewish musicians were at the peak of their careers, their profile and artistry was often enough to help them escape the Third Reich and emigrate to safety. Notable examples included lyric soprano Lotte Schöne (1891-1977), who went to France - having to hide once again during the German occupation.

Louis Treumann (1872-1943, born Alois Pollitzer), the Austrian actor and operetta tenor who created the role of Danilo in the 1905 world premiere of Lehar`s operetta Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) was arrested in 1942, at age 70, deported with his wife to Theresienstadt where both later died.

Above, on the right, is a photo of him as Danilo in the world premiere of The Merry Widow.

The celebrated Wagnerian bass, Alexander Kipnis (1891-1978) managed to break his contract at the Berlin Opera in 1935, and settle in the United States.

The great tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948) had been made stateless by the Nazi Party when war broke out, and was touring South Africa. After a brief spell in Switzerland, he eventually settled in the UK and is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.

However beneficial this influx of astonishingly gifted singers might have been to the concerts halls and opera houses of countries outside of Germany, the emigrés didn't always find life easy, and had to work hard in many cases to establish careers on the level they had left behind.

Other singers were not so lucky. Those whose careers were drawing to a close, and those who were yet to finish their training or become established did not have a route out.

Many singers who had been much-loved only a decade or so earlier when their careers had been at their height were to to find themselves transported to a concentration camp, where they were brutally murdered in Auschwitz and other camps.


Persecuted Musicians

The shape of things to come where music was concerned was clear by November 1936. The statue of Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn had been destroyed in Leipzig, and it was no longer permitted to perform works by composers including Mahler, Offenbach, Korngold, and Schoenberg.

Jewish musicians were already finding themselves out of work at concert halls and opera houses, and even much-loved conductor Bruno Walter was told he would encounter "certain difficulties" should he intend to continue with an upcoming appearance in Leipzig.

Alma Rose

Perhaps one of the most chilling aspects of this period was the fact that the German SS still forced Jewish musicians to play and sing inside the concentration camps where they were imprisoned. Mahler's own niece, the violinist Alma Maria Rosé, was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.

For opera composers and singers, Terezin (Theresienstadt) was a showpiece, supposed to demonstrate to the outside world that all was well.

Hans Krasa's Brundibar had a cast almost completely composed of children; both composer and the entire cast of children were deported and murdered in Auschwitz  (Greta Klingsberg, the 13 year old girl who had played the lead role of Annika, was one of the few survivors).

Schoenberg's student Viktor Ullmann (photo) composed his opera

Viktor Ullmann signed photo

Der Kaiser von Atlantis when in Terezin, and was also deported to Auschwitz and murdered in its gas chambers in 1944.

Librettist and poet Petr Klein was also transferred from Terezin, with all his family, to his death in Auschwitz at age 25.

The opera survived thanks for a camp doctor, but was not premiered until 1975.


Life in Terezin

Amongst the musicians incarcerated in Terezin was the Czech-Jewish composer Pavel Haas (photo). Born in Brno in 1899, his formal musical education began at 14, and he became Leos Janacek's best, and perhaps most-influenced, student.

composer Pavel Haas

Enormously self-critical, Haas declined to assign opus numbers to many of his works, even though he had received the prestigious Smetana Foundation Award in 1938 for his opera Sarlatan (The Charlatan).

Prior to being deported to Terezin in 1941, he divorced his wife, Sona (who died in 1982), in an attempt to save both her and their daughter, Olga. Despite frantically writing to friends in America, passage out for Haas couldn't be secured in time.

Profoundly depressed on arriving at Terezin, he was coaxed into work by his compatriot, Gideon Klein, a young pianist who had been offered a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London, but forbidden to leave to take it up.

Klein died in unexplained circumstances during the liquidation of Fürstengrube labour camp in January 1945. His few compositions were entrusted to his girlfriend, Irma Semtska, who gave them to Klein's sister Eliska when the war ended.

Haas wrote at least eight works in Terezin, with his Study for String

Karel Ancerl conductor

Orchestra being premiered in Terezin under Karel Ancerl (photo), another Czech. This was conducted by Ancerl in addition to Hans Krasa's Brundibar, mentioned above, which also featured in the propaganda film Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer gives the Jews a City). Haas can be seen taking a bow after the performance.

Together with Ancerl, and the child performers, Haas was transported to Auschwitz shortly after the propoganda film was completed. Joseph Mengele was about to send Ancerl to the gas chamber first, but a weakened Haas began to cough and was sent ahead.

Ancerl was sent to Terezin with his family in 1942. A catalyst for artistic life in the camp, he managed to survive Auschwitz (and died in 1973). His wife, Valy, and his son Jan (who had been born in Terezin), were murdered in 1944.

After the war, he became artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic in 1950, staying for 18 years and propelling it into a period of artistic excellence which brought the orchestra international recognition.

German opera stars also lost their lives in large numbers.

The singers who died

Incomplete records mean that we will never know precisely how many distinguished singers were murdered. However, some of the most prominent and best remembered left a recorded legacy to demonstrate their artistry.

Grete Forst signed photo in role

The great Austrian coloratura soprano Grete Forst (born Margarete Feiglstock) was probably born in 1878, but since she held the title of Kämmersinger, she was legally entitled to change her date of birth, so her date of birth is also recorded as 1880.

Frost operatic debut was in Cologne in 1900, singing the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor, a role she repeated for her Vienna State Opera debut three years later, leading her to be invited to be a member of the company by Gustav Mahler.

Her other coloratura roles included Oscar Un ballo in maschera, Olympia The Tales of Hoffmann, and The Queen of the Night The Magic Flute. Later in her career, she took on some heavier and lyric soprano roles, including Fiordiligi Cosi fan tutte, and Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly.

She married in 1911, and retired from the stage, continuing to give concerts. Forst converted to Catholicism in 1940, but it wasn't enough to save her. She was deported to the concentration camp Maly Trostenets, and died there on 1 June 1942.

The celebrated Wagnerian, Ottilie Metzger-Lattermann was one of the great interpreters of the role of Erda at Bayreuth

Ottilie Metzger-Lattermann as Carmen

in the first decade of the twentieth century. Also born in 1878, She also sang Amneris opposite Caruso's Radames in Aida at the Hamburg Opera, and had a stellar international career.

After the death of her second husband, Theodor Latterman, in 1926, she taught in Berlin and gave recitals, often with Richard Strauss as her accompanist.

After 1933, she continued to perform for Jewish audiences, and almost escaped to the United States to perform in a Ring Cycle that impresario George Blumenthal attempted to get off the ground (with a completely Jewish cast).

Unfortunately, it never came to be, and despite fleeing to Brussels with her daughter in 1939, Ottilie was captured by the Nazis and died in Auschwitz. The exact date of her death is unknown.

Her occasional recital partner, the baritone Erhard Wechselmann, also died in Auschwitz in 1943.

Two members of the ensemble at Frankfurt Opera were murdered - Magda Spiegel (Auschwitz, 1944) and Richard Breitenfeld (Terezin, 1944), while bass Rudolf Bandler died in 1944 in a ghetto in Poland and soprano Grete Forst was murdered in an extermination camp in Belorrussia in 1942.

Of Magda Spiegel, Peter Hugh Reed wrote in 1949:

"I have also learned with the deepest regret about the similar death of the contralto Magda Spiegel, from Frankfurt. She made some excellent acoustic records in the early 1920s...I remember her as a thrilling Adriano in Wagner's Rienzi [in 1934]".

Breitenfeld's debut had been as the Conte di Luna in Il trovatore in 1897 in Cologne, and he recorded for both Odeon and HMV from 1910 to 1914. He has a memorial stone in Frankfurt.

Henriette Gottlieb signed photo in Die Walkure

Dramatic soprano Henriette Gottlieb was still at her peak in 1933 (as a 1932 recording of Fidelio demonstrates), but the thought of re-establishing herself elsewhere was too much and she took the decision to retire.

She was not only a little older than most of her Wagnerian contemporaries (and eleven years older than Flagstad), she was significantly shorter; for repertoire that tends to find its exponents in bigger bodies, she was physically tiny, as a photograph taken at Bayreuth in 1930 shows.

Often taking the minor roles in The Ring, she did leave a stunning Siegfried Brünnhilde on disc. She died in the Lodz ghetto in Poland on 2 January 1942.

Erna Berger, who had sung with her in that 1932 Fidelio recording notes in her autobiography:

"We knew that Furtwängler attempted to help some...we did not know of the terrible fate of those he failed to help...did we not want to know? Could we not have guessed it and should we not have tried to find out?"

The Bayreuth Memorial

Two of the singers who performed at Bayreuth are 

Memorial plaque for Ottilie Metzger and Henriette Gottlieb in the Ferstspielpark Bayreuth.

commemorated with a plaque at Bayreuth. Strong supporter and close personal friend of Adolf Hitler, Winifred Wagner, was petitioned relentlessly throughout the 1970s to install a plaque and it was eventually installed in remembrance of Ottilie Metzger and Henrietter Gottlieb.


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