Polish government wants to take over, upgrade Treblinka museum

Poland’s government offered to take over from a local authority the responsibility for preserving the grounds of the former Nazi death camp Treblinka, where 870,000 people were murdered.

The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage made the offer in a letter it sent last week to the regional government of Mazovia, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported Sunday.

The takeover could open up new funds for upgrading the small museum in Treblinka, whose grounds in the 1960s were turned into a Polish national monument featuring hundreds of stones inscribed with the names of the countries and places from which the victims had originated. It also has a room-sized museum displaying some objects, mostly work tools, found at the site.


Before retreating, the Nazis largely destroyed the facilities of the relatively small camp, which was spread across nearly 57 acres, including the southeastern extermination area with its brick building containing three gas chambers, each measuring 170 square feet.

From the Depths, an organization that deals with Holocaust commemoration in Eastern Europe, welcomed the move, which comes amid a government-led campaign that is widely seen as designed to highlight Polish victimhood during World War II and counter claims that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust.

“It is very promising to see that the Polish government, along with the public international campaign against calling the death camps ‘Polish Death camps,’ have also stood to take further responsibility for those sites on current-day Polish soil,” From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels told JTA. He has criticized Polish authorities for perceived neglect of some Holocaust sites.

Poland’s right-wing government is advancing legislation that would criminalize the use of the term “Polish death camps.” In February, Poland’s deputy justice minister, Patryk Jaki, told reporters in Warsaw: “Stop attributing to Poland the role of Holocaust author.”

The government-operated Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum opposes even mentioning that the former death camp is in Poland, urging journalists to change the geographical characterization to “German-occupied” territory.

Treblinka, Daniels said, “has been mismanaged by regional authorities, with little funds going into security or upkeep of the site and visitors were unable to get a true understanding of what happened there.”

Separately, From the Depths this week facilitated a deal with a Polish Jewish group, TSKZ, in which it will house the new offices of the Polish Society of the Righteous Among the Nations, whose members were recognized for risking their lives to help Jews survive the Holocaust. The society’s previous office, on the second floor of a suburban building without an elevator, was inaccessible to some of the elderly members.

Survivor: Sol Liber

As soon as the train leaving the Warsaw Ghetto made its first stop, the 100 Jews packed into the cattle car with 19-year-old Sol Liber knew they were headed east to the Treblinka death camp. “Half the train was getting crazy,” said Sol, who recalls standing back from the tiny window in his car to let more air reach his older sisters, Tishel and Shayva, who were fainting. 

Hours later, the train pulled into the Treblinka station. “Raus, raus” (“Out, out”) the SS shouted, as dazed passengers exited the cars, lining up outside. “Give up your valuables,” other men ordered, holding an open blanket for the deposits. Amid what seemed to Sol utter chaos, the SS herded about 3,100 Jews toward the gas chambers. 

An SS tapped Sol on the shoulder, motioning for him to sit, cross-legged, with a group of men on nearby cement. From there, Sol watched his sisters walk with their arms around one another, unable to keep a straight line, until they disappeared behind a shrubbery-covered chain-link fence. “Ausziehen, ausziehen” (“Undress, undress”), he heard SS shouting from behind the fence. 

Sol and the remaining 500 men continued to wait while the cattle cars were cleaned. After two hours, Sol noticed everything was quiet. “Nothing. You could only hear the birds in the trees,” he said. It was late April 1943. 

Sol Liber was born on Dec. 3, 1923, in Grójec, Poland, to Sana and Shayndel Liber. He was the fifth of six children, and Sol’s father leased out orchards and sold the fruit in Warsaw. Their observant Orthodox family was poor; they lived in an apartment with just two small bedrooms and a kitchen. 

Sol fondly remembers Shabbat, and his mother lighting candles on Friday night and serving chicken soup and challah. The rest of the week, he said, “people were concentrating on putting food on the table.”

Sol attended a public school strictly for Jewish children, and also went to Hebrew school. At 13, he was apprenticed to a tailor, and he also attended night school for basic military training.

In early September 1939, Sol was standing in the family’s backyard when the Germans bombed the town’s flourmill. He escaped with his family to an orchard.

The next day, Nazi Einsatzgruppe soldiers picked up men ages 15 to 50, including Sol and his father. (Sol’s brothers had already been drafted into the Polish army.) They marched the 200 Jews and Poles from city to city, with little food and under harsh conditions. Finally, after Warsaw capitulated to the Germans, the prisoners were freed. Sol and his father returned home around Sukkot.

In Grójec, Sol was selected for forced labor, including spreading manure and clearing snow off the roads, both with his bare hands. By July 1940, the Germans had established a ghetto, where Sol lived in one room with his family. The was nothing to do, Sol said, except “just go to work and starve to death.” In February 1941 they were all transported in open trucks to the Warsaw ghetto. 

Sol was unable to find work. In the summer he escaped over an 8-foot fence — “[It] was a miracle,” Sol said — and walked to Bialobrzegi, another ghetto.

To survive, Sol sneaked out of the ghetto and begged food from farmers. One day he saw his father, who had also escaped from the Warsaw ghetto with Sol’s mother and younger sister Esther. They were renting a shack from a local Pole. 

In early 1942, Sol found a farmer who let him work in exchange for food. After three months, however, afraid of the consequences of harboring a Jew, the farmer released Sol, but gave him some money and food. 

Sol joined his brother Rafael, who was working on the railroad, but Rafael contracted typhoid fever and died two weeks later. Sol also came down with the disease, but he recovered and went to work in a nearby labor camp that served as an SS farm. Sol’s job was scrubbing four horses, which the Germans inspected with white gloves twice daily. They invariably found dust and beat him, he said, “more than once.”

One morning, when the stable head hit Sol with a rope for half-dozing, Sol grabbed his pitchfork and thrust it in the man’s stomach, killing him. 

Sol ran, and made his way to a farm in Praga, outside Warsaw, where his sisters worked. Then, in the summer of 1942, they were all transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto.

Sol and his sisters stayed together, living on Szczesliwa Street and working in a factory. Sol repaired gunshot holes in soldiers’ uniforms.

Sol soon learned about a resistance organization within the ghetto and was blindfolded and taken to see Mordechai Anielewicz, then second in command of the ZOB or Jewish Combat Organization. He was given a gun and taught to make Molotov cocktails. 

Early on April 19, 1943, the night of first seder, SS entered the ghetto, intending to liquidate it in three days. Instead, the Jews resisted. Sol tossed Molotov cocktails at the soldiers in his area. A few fell, and the rest retreated. Sol escaped to a bunker on his street.

The next day, German tanks entered the ghetto. From a rooftop, Sol hit one with a Molotov cocktail. That night, Sol was ordered to blow up an airplane parts factory on Niska Street. He and four others left the bunker, and to avoid making noise on pavement littered with broken glass, they walked in their stocking feet to the factory, where they broke four windows and threw in cocktails. “The factory went up in flames,” Sol said. 

A few nights later, Sol and a few others took a small group of teenagers to a sewer entrance, to allow the young people to escape. But when they approached the manhole, they smelled gas. Someone had ratted on them, and the Germans opened fire. Sol hit the ground, but a bullet penetrated his shoulder. 

The group made it to the Szczesliwa Street bunker, where about 80 people were hiding. But the SS later opened the trap door and threatened to blow them up. Everyone exited with his hands up. “I thought it was over,” Sol recalled. But the SS instead shot the 13-year-old Jewish boy who had squealed.

The group was marched to the Umschlagplatz, the main train depot, and the next day transported to Treblinka. Sol also knew that his parents and sister Esther had earlier been taken from Bialobrzegi to Treblinka. 

In Treblinka, Sol and the other men had been selected to clean up the Warsaw Ghetto. But when the Germans learned that 500 Greek Jews had already been dispatched, they sent Sol’s group to Majdanek. 

There, in the mornings, Sol moved stones from one side of a field to the other. In the afternoons, he took the stones back. “Majdanek was a torture camp, not a work camp,” he said.

Fearing a particular kapo was going to kill him, Sol traded his bread for another prisoner’s job of “breaking boots” for German soldiers. He walked all day in new boots with no socks as his feet bled.

A friend then found him a job in the horse barracks, putting away prisoners’ straw sleeping sacks.

One Sunday, a drunk SS entered the barracks to break in a new whip — wire covered with leather. Sol was selected and received 25 lashes. He couldn’t sit down for weeks. 

A couple months later, in fall 1943, Sol volunteered to go to an ammunition factory in Skarzysko-Kamienna. There he worked hardening steel for machinery, one of the better jobs.

In August 1944, with the Russian front approaching, the prisoners were ordered to pack the machinery on flat cars and depart. 

They came to the Hasag forced labor camp in Czestochowa. There Sol loaded items for the Russian front. Then, in mid-January 1945, as the Russians again advanced — Sol could hear “the terrible whistling noise of the Katyusha rockets” — the SS evacuated the camp, packing the prisoners onto cattle cars.

Sol reached Buchenwald on Jan. 20, 1945. The camp was overcrowded and bitter cold. “People were dying like flies,” Sol said. 

About seven weeks later, Sol, along with 125 or so prisoners, was transported to a labor camp near the Czechoslovakian border. “It was like Siberia,” Sol recalled. “Snow and barracks.” His job was to haul machinery down a small elevator into empty salt mine shafts, a difficult task. 

In mid-May 1945 the prisoners were evacuated and forced to march from sunrise to sunset, sleeping in fields. Sol walked in shoes with no socks and was also forced to carry a rucksack and an unloaded rifle for an SS. After three weeks, on June 6, 1945, they were liberated by the Russians in Annaberg, Germany. Sol was 21.

He eventually joined his brother Yitzhak at the Eggenfelden displaced persons camp in Germany, staying for three years. In June 1949, he sailed to Canada, settling in Montreal, where he met Bella Bezonsky. They married on June 14, 1953. Their son Sheldon was born in 1956, daughter Susan in 1957 and son Rodney in 1963.

Sol and his family moved to California on Dec. 25, 1957. Sol worked as a tailor and then bought his own factory, S&D Fashions in downtown Los Angeles. In 1980, he sold the factory and semi-retired. 

Sol, who turns 90 on Dec. 3, enjoys walking and spending time with his children and eight grandchildren. He considers himself a “Holocaust walking encyclopedia,” but still doesn’t know if any of the 500 men who survived Treblinka with him are still alive.

“The will to live. You’ll try everything,” he said.

A Turkish Muslim perspective on Yom HaShoah

When people of reason and conscience look back on the subject of Shoah (otherwise known as the Holocaust) today, it is common to hear questions like: “How could a nation of philosophers, composers of classical music, technology, poets, in this seat of the Enlightenment itself, suddenly give vent to savagery not seen since the Dark Ages? How could such dreadful, inhumane impulses seize every apparatus of a nation and cause it to commit such atrocities?”

In looking at the subject of the Holocaust violence, we can see the obvious influence of pseudo-scientific thought as well as a reversion to a far darker philosophy in human history. Arguably, the roots of anti-Semitism in Europe run quite deep, and found their most lethal expression in the Shoah itself; when some six million innocent Jewish men, women and children were done to death on the edge of mass graves in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia or had their lives systematically snuffed out at factories of mass murder such as Sobibor, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Chelmo and Belzec, names that shall forever be remembered as grim testaments to hatred. While it is not my intention to go too in-depth on the roots of European anti-Semitism, it must be touched upon in order to illustrate how prejudice led to disdain, then to hatred, and finally to genocide.

Anti-Semitism in Europe has a long and tragic history. For many centuries, this dislike of the Jewish people of the Diaspora was confined to the religious and social sphere; indeed, it's all too easy to recall such events as the massacres of the First Crusade in 1096, the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the assorted pogroms in Russia and Ukraine; the list is long and horrific. This awful situation persisted as recently as 1959, when a reference to “… perfidious Jews” was finally dropped from the Good Friday Liturgy of the Catholic Church (it must be said here that the Roman Catholic Church has made enormous strides in its relations with the Jewish people, most notably beginning with Vatican II and the later efforts of Pope John Paul II; and let us not forget the many Catholics – and others – who risked, and in some cases, lost their lives to save innocent Jews from Nazi terror).

Until the 19th century, European anti-Semitism was largely confined to the religious sphere (and to a lesser extent, the socio-economic sphere as well). Then, by the middle of the Nineteenth Century, it began to change in tone and style. Anti-Semitism became no longer a matter of theological difference, but rather a matter of biological differences. This was the introduction of so-called “scientific racism” through the introduction and application of Darwinian evolutionary theory, which had gained widespread acceptance by the end of the Nineteenth Century. And with this, the argument among European anti-Semites changed from, “Let us convert the Jews” to “Let us rid ourselves of this infectious and invasive species” (May God forbid). Simply put, an openly exterminationist sentiment had arisen, based on pseudo-scientific reasoning. The Jewish people had gone from being “the Other” to being “the Subhuman”, “a bacillus”, “a virus”. Surely they are beyond this defamation.

Darwinism, and its false implication that human beings are mere animals, classified as “superior”, “inferior” or “non-human” is the basis for the pseudo-science of racism. When Hitler said, “Take away the Nordic Germans and nothing remains but the dance of apes”, he was referring to the falsehood of Darwinist ideas. (Carl Cohen, Communism, Fascism and Democracy, Random House, New York, 1972, p. 408-409) While certainly, there are differences between people, to suggest that a group of people is inherently superior to another, and therefore has a right or moral imperative to subjugate the other, is a grossly mistaken idea.

As a result of such pseudo-scientific fallacies and and neo-romanticist fantasies, six million Jews, innocent men, women and children over a vast swath of the European continent were dehumanized, corralled into ghettoes and exterminated by the conquering Nazis. According to their racial delusion, the Nazi herrenvolk would rule over a vast empire of slaves, with the conquered peoples being the hewers of wood and drawers of water, and with the Jewish people (not to mention anyone else who failed to measure up to the Nazis exacting Darwinian standards) having been eliminated from the face of the earth itself. The Nazis' crude interpretations of Darwinism – influenced by agricultural practices such as animal husbandry – and their outlandish views of history such as Ariosophy, are all too familiar to anyone with even a rudimentary education, and there is no need to comprehensively explain their overall ideology. There are indeed people alive in Israel today, and many other countries, who survived this darkest period of human history, who can easily attest to the horrors they witnessed and experienced.

As Muslims, we bear a special obligation to confront the anti-Semitism that has infected the Muslim world. We must not traffic in discredited ideas and unbecoming stereotypes or proclaim, as truth, notorious forgeries such as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (it has been well known for almost a century now that this tract was a forgery by the Czarist Secret Police in order to justify pogroms in Russia). We must not subscribe to pseudo-scientific notions such as racism, nor allow ourselves to succumb to pseudo-historic nonsense such as Holocaust Denial. When it comes to anti-Semitism, we must confront it. We must educate against it. And most of all, we must repudiate it utterly.

We can also look to the recent past and remember how Turkish diplomats worked to save Jews from persecution and extermination during the Second World War. Although it is neither as emphasized or as well-known as the stories of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, it is a fact that Turkish diplomats provided official documents such as citizenship cards and passports to thousands of Jews. Just to give one example, the Turkish ambassador Behiç Erkin -in order to save the Jews- gave the Nazis documents certifying that their property, houses and businesses, belonged to Turks. In this way, many lives were saved. Yet another example is that of the Turks who organized boats to carry Jews to safety in Turkey. My intention in mentioning this is that Muslim Turks' attitude for centuries has demonstrated that Turks and Jews have continued to help each other in times of great crises and God willing, it will continue to be this way, no matter what happens.

For hundreds of years, Jews have known suffering, pain, and have never been at ease. Since the Diaspora, they have been expelled from almost every place they ever went for centuries. And now there are some who say they want the Jews to leave Israel also. The question arises, “Where are they supposed to go?” The Jews, the people of Israel, have the right to live in the Holy Land, in peace and security; indeed, it is so commanded by God Himself in the Qur'an: “And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land.'” (Surah Al-Isra, 104) Therefore, no one who professes submission to God and heeds the Word of God can oppose their existence in the Holy Land. And as Turks, as Muslims as much as we want the welfare of humanity, we want Jews to live in peace as well. We will always make our best efforts to ensure this goal. To do otherwise is to stand in defiance to the Will of God Himself.

The author is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at a Turkish TV. She is also the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization. She can be reached on http://www.facebook.com/sinemtezyapar and https://twitter.com/SinemTezyapar.

Technology may reveal missing Holocaust graves

Scientists using ground-probing electronics may have discovered the missing mass graves at the site of Treblinka, one of the Nazis’ most notorious death camps.

No actual bodies were found and the graves were not excavated, in keeping with Jewish law, but bones and bone fragments were discovered in the ground, according to Caroline Sturdy Colls, a forensic archeologist at Straffordshire University in Britain, who headed the research.

The underground structures detected by her equipment outline what most likely are the graves.

Historians believe as many as 850,000 people, mostly Jews and some Roma, or Gypsies, died at Treblinka.

Although eyewitnesses told of the existence of mass graves, the Germans did everything they could to cover up their crimes, and the inability of researchers to find them was sometimes used by Holocaust deniers to claim large-scale murder did not occur there.

Sturdy Colls used aerial photographs from the 1940s, satellite imagery, GPS mapping devices and new ground-penetrating radar. The radar could not detect corpses but could detect differences between the ground and disturbances and inconsistencies in the ground, such as buried objects, in 11 areas.

“Given their size and location, there is a strong case for arguing that they represent burial areas,” she said.

Sturdy Colls began working at Treblinka in 2010. She and her colleagues used radar and electrical imaging to get an idea of what was underground without actually disturbing the site. One of the first things she discovered was that the early maps of the site were incorrect — the northern boundary line was off by 160 feet.

After the war, Treblinka’s neighbors had looted some of the graves, seeking gold they thought the Jews had hidden. That complicated the topography, but Sturdy Colls’ equipment found several pits exactly where witnesses said they would be.

The largest is 85 feet long, 55 feet wide and at least 13 feet deep, with a ramp for access. At least five others that deep also are in the area.

Treblinka was opened on July 23, 1942, as an extermination camp in east-central Poland, part of Germany’s Operation Rheinhard, the extermination of European Jewry.

It was designed for one purpose: murder. Ninety-five percent of the people sent there were killed immediately, mostly by carbon monoxide poisoning from tank engines pumped into gas chambers.

Treblinka was closed on Oct. 19, 1943, following a rebellion by the Sonderkommando unit — Jews forced to assist in operating the camp. Several German and Ukrainian guards were killed in the rebellion, enabling 300 prisoners to escape.

The Germans, however, were suddenly afraid that their crimes would be detected.

In 1943, they had discovered the bodies of thousands of Polish officers executed by the Russians at Katyn three years earlier and realized that if anyone found the bodies at concentration camps, they would be blamed.

Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler ordered that whenever a camp was to be abandoned, all the bodies had to be exhumed and cremated, Sturdy Colls said.

Sturdy Colls said that it takes very high temperatures to cremate a human body, and bone fragments almost always remain after the process, even when the cremation is done in a modern facility.

The job was done in a rush. As late as the 1960s, human remains would emerge from the ground, often after a rainstorm.

The Germans leveled the camp, destroying all the buildings, built a fake farm on the site of the bakery and even settled a Ukrainian family on the farm to make it look as if nothing had happened there. Little of the camp remained above ground.

A five-day Polish war crimes investigation in 1946 found a cellar passage with the “protruding remains of burnt posts, the foundations of the administration building, and the old well. Here and there can also be traced the remains of burnt fence posts and pieces of barbed wire, and short sections of paved road. There are also other traces.”

The early researchers also found decomposing corpses that the Germans had misplaced. Construction of a stone memorial at the site also turned up human remains.

They did not, however, find the graves themselves until the current research.

“We mapped what we can. We’ve identified 11 individual pits that we can survey,” said Sturdy Colls, whose work is ongoing. “A good chunk of the memorial was built where they thought the mass graves were, so there is a good chance there are more in the forest and under the memorial itself.”

Portrait of a Prodigy That Rings True

“The Song of Names” by Norman Lebrecht (Anchor, $14).Â

Few writers know more about the dark, sometimes scandalous
workings of the music business than Norman Lebrecht, the author of “The Maestro
Myth: Great Conductors in Pursuit of Power” (Simon & Schuster, 1991) and
the illuminating “Who Killed Classical Music?: Maestros, Managers, and
Corporate Politics” (Birch Lane Press, 1997). A longtime newspaper columnist
and host of a BBC Radio 3 show, “Lebrecht Live,” he won the Whitbread First
Novel Award for “The Song of Names,” a brilliant debut and a dazzling piece of

Many authors and screenwriters have tried to depict child
prodigies, especially musical ones, for whom readers and moviegoers appear to
have an insatiable interest. But most prodigy portraits simply do not ring
true, or are downright laughable, to those who have known, or have been,
musical prodigies. Lebrecht does a much better job at this than most, as his
immersion in the world of classical music has allowed him to witness every
aspect of the business, from the managerial handling and marketing of their
prodigies (or to be more blunt, their product) to the behavior and
preternatural ability of the “Gifted Ones,” future divas and superstars.

This tale of music, obsession, war and mourning opens with
Martin Simmonds, the middle-aged narrator, telling us about his father, a music
publisher and manager, and the many ways in which the music business has
changed since he took over his father’s business. Full of self-pity, Martin
rues what he lost when his childhood friend, “the genius, the master of time,”
disappeared. Like death, “it is a loss that cannot be repaired, a hole in the
heart of things,” he reflects despairingly on the 40 years he has spent
enduring “the monotony of my half-life.” He has no inkling, as the book opens,
that his life is about to change radically.

The much-lamented “master of time” is David Eli Rapoport,
acclaimed by many in the postwar music world of London as the brightest star to
come along since the war, someone to give England hope for a brighter future.
The 9-year-old David — known affectionately as Dovidl — had come with this
father to England from Poland in 1938 to study with the great professor Flesch.
Dovidl’s father, however, had to return to Warsaw to take care of his sick
pregnant wife and to get the necessary permits so the entire family could come
to London. He asked Mortimer Simmonds to care for his son in the interim, which
Mortimer and his wife do, arranging all aspects of Dovidl’s education and
treating him as one of the family.

Martin, who remembers himself as a chubby, short and awkward
boy, “one degree more precocious than my peers, insufferably so … locked in
loneliness, unable to achieve meaningful human contact,” is thrilled to have
such a brilliant companion. Through the eyes, ears and conversations of these
inseparable adolescent friends, the reader gets a vivid picture of wartime London.

Self-assured to the point of arrogance, Dovidl tells Martin
(whom he calls Mottl), that the English class system has it wrong.

“The real world is divided into two classes of humans,” he
says — those who make things happen and those who let them happen. “I …
belong to the first class.” During the war, Dovidl asks to give a major public
recital, but Mortimer explains that, while culture was flourishing in Britain,
its receptivity was restricted to “English art, true and blue. Aliens need not

The minds that opened to new English writing slammed shut on
foreign accents. London was a paradise lost for non-English writers, fine
artists and conductors. “Soloists talked of catching the first peacetime ship
to America. England had given them shelter and oblivion laced with xenophobia
and abuse.”

Martin recalls George Orwell — “my father’s night-watch
commander” — who wrote that Jews are not only conspicuous, “but go out of their
way to make themselves so,” as well as the words of the critic James Agee, “who
used to drop in on my mother for tea,” and quipped: “Sometimes the Jews make it
very difficult to be as much pro-Semite as I am.” While creative artists could
“at worst, inhabit a world of imagination, performers had nowhere to hide….
This was not the time to present a foreign Jewish debutante on the London
concert stage.”

As war news filters into the Simmonds household, Dovidl
receives a letter from his mother, routed via Switzerland, informing him the
family will be resettled soon in the East where they had been assured that
living conditions would be less cramped. Mortimer tries to calm his family,
telling then not to believe everything they read in the papers: “Treat atrocity
reports with care, taking into account the possibility of propaganda and the
Jewish tendency to hysteria.”

Martin’s overriding fear is losing his friend and their
“symbiotic unity.” He reflects four decades later, “With him in my life, I was
confident, capable, presentable, almost eloquent. Without him, I would revert
to being a fat slob with a speech defect. He was the rabbi to my Golem, the
Clara to my Schumann, the valve to my radio.”

In May 1946, on Dovidl’s 16th birthday, Mortimer travels
with reams of sheet music and several performers to Poland, where he searches
unsuccessfully for any remnant of Dovidl’s family. He learns only that they
were deported Aug. 18, 1942, for Treblinka. For a year Mortimer recites
“Kaddish” for Dovidl’s father, whom he met only once, but Dovidl refuses to do
so, believing it would mean he has utterly given up hope. Finally, Mortimer
arranges for Dovidl’s debut (under the name of Eli, less obviously Jewish than
David and more palatable for promotional purposes). But on the afternoon of his
debut, shortly after his dress rehearsal, he disappears along with his 1742
Guadagnini violin. Martin recalls his family losing 10,000 pounds (sterling)
that night, “more than an entire year’s profit.” Worse, his father lost his
good name. “His judgment could not be trusted again.”

Bitterly Martin tells us, “He left the stage before the
curtain rose, and he took with him half of my being and all of my hopes.”

Forty years later, at a competition Martin is judging as the
novel opens, he hears a young violinist who sounds uncannily like his old
friend. He tracks down Dovidl, and learns what derailed his concert career and
so drastically changed his life. Without revealing the many plot twists and
turns, the “Song of Names,” a long, intoned recitation of names of Jews who
died in Treblinka — sung like prayers to facilitate memorization — propels the
events which will utterly transform first Dovidl’s life and, just as
unexpectedly, his old friend, Mottl’s.

It is a rare author who can write as sensitively, and
pithily, about the wounding after-effects of the Shoah as he does about music.
Lebrecht manages to do both, compellingly and unforgettably.

Article reprinted courtesy the Forward. Â

Susan Miron is a harpist. Her CD of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas was recently released by Centaur Records.Â