Articles & Essays

The Dispersion of Hitler’s Exiles: European Musicians as Agents of Cultural Transformation

By Juliane Brand

The Dispersion of Hitler's Exiles: European Musicians as Agents of Cultural Transformation

Germany and Austria were transformed by the forced expatriation of Jews during the 1930s and 1940s. No less transformative was the influx of exiles into the countries willing to give them refuge. Artists, writers, scientists and intellectuals who established vital spheres of activity in their new homelands seminally affected the arts, sciences, humanities and even national sensibilities. Most easily identifiable as agents of transformation were those figures who had already achieved some degree of public stature, but regular folk - workers and professionals living private lives in circumscribed spheres - likewise had a significant, if more subtle, collective cultural impact, as can be seen in changes to national cuisines and fashions, and in the more intangible areas of international awareness and tolerance of the Other.

In the initial wave of forced expulsion from Germany after the Machtübernahme of 1933, the choice of safe haven for many was Vienna. Despite the possibility that Austria and Germany might eventually unify, Vienna offered the greatest equivalence of professional possibility. The rest of Europe, particularly Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Scandinavia, also experienced an immediate influx of Jewish and progressive refugees.

Those who suspected that National Socialism might threaten the entire European continent set their sights further afield, above all on England and the United States. Palestine, too, attracted a number of musician exiles, particularly after the energetic organizer Karel Salmon (1897–1974; originally Karel Salomon) arrived in Jerusalem in 1933 and the violinist Bronislaw Huberman (1882–1947) founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in Tel Aviv in 1936. The greater a musician's previous international exposure, the greater the chance that s/he had some choice about country of refuge. A conductor such as the Hungarian-born George Szell (1897–1970; originally György Széll), for example, who had toured internationally and made his debut in the United States in 1930, had no trouble relocating to that country in 1939, though at first he had to support himself partly by teaching. Increasingly however, those fleeing Europe had no choice of destination. After Nazi Germany's invasion of Austria - the so-called Anschluss, in March 1938 - and then again after the Kristallnacht pogroms of 9–10 November of that year, the angle of Jewish dispersion from Central Europe necessarily widened significantly, eventually encompassing not only the United Kingdom, North America and Palestine but also China, Japan, most of Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand and even some portions of Africa.

Exiles from the highly saturated (and competitive) cultural centers of Europe who came to localities with little or no receptivity for European culture could consider themselves fortunate if they found opportunities to practice their profession, and when they did, they usually had to start from scratch. Depending on an individual's viewpoint and attitude, this was either a burden or a challenge. Polish-born Josef Rosenstock (1895–1985), for example, who found refuge in Japan in 1936, relished the opportunity to introduce Western music in Tokyo; he and other foreigners in Japan, including the pianist Leo Sirota (1885–1965) and the violinist Leonid Kreutzer (1884–1953), were interned in the 1940s as “enemy aliens,” but Rosenstock was revered in the postwar period for having helped to make Japan's first professional orchestra, established in 1926 and today named the NHK Symphony Orchestra, an internationally recognized institution. Erich Eisner (1897–1956; also known as Erich Erck), who was given refuge in Bolivia, founded several performance organizations there, the most prominent of which - Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional - remains a vital institution to this day. In Brazil the German-born flutist, conductor and influential pedagogue Hans-Joachim Koellreutter (1915–2005), a student of Hermann Scherchen, promoted interest in international contemporary music and initiated the activities of a composer's organization, the Grupo Música Viva; he helped a number of European musicians find opportunities in Brazil, including the Berlin-born pianist and composer Henry Jolles (1902–65; originally Heinz Jolles), who eventually established a successful teaching career at the Escola Livre de Música in São Paulo. Among the exiles who had a profound impact on Australia - a country that most exiles probably regarded as virtually a cultural tabula rasa - was the German-born Hermann Schildberger (1899–1974), who had been one of the cofounders in Berlin of the Nazi-sanctioned Kulturbund Deutscher Juden (later the Jüdischer Kulturbund). In exile, Schildberger was responsible for establishing a number of choruses and orchestras in the Melbourne area; he headed the National Theatre Opera School from 1949 to 1971, as well as conducting the State Service Concert Orchestra from 1950 to 1971, and in 1970 he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to Australian music.

In Canada, the Austrian-born musicologist and composer Arnold Walter (1902–73) was one of the founders of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music; the Viennese harpsichordist Greta Kraus (1907–98), a pupil of Heinrich Schenker, was one of the country's influential early music pioneers; Frankfurt-born Herman Geiger-Torel (1907–76; originally Hermann Geiger) and Moravian-born Nicholas Goldschmidt (1908–2004) laid the groundwork for what is now the Canadian Opera Company; and the Karlsruhe native Walter Homburger (b. 1924) became one of Canada's leading music administrators and impresarios. Other émigrés from Nazi-controlled Europe also immeasurably enriched the country's musical life.

Countries with European-oriented musical institutions in place included Argentina, where the Teatro Colón offered opportunities to such European musicians as the conductors Georg Pauly (1883–1950; originally Georg Plaut), Erich Kleiber (1890–1956), Fritz Busch (1890-1951) and Thomas Mayer (1907–2002). Argentina also welcomed jazz musicians such as Leon Golzman (better known as Dajos Béla; 1897–1978), Efim Schachmeister (1894–1944) and Samuel Baskind (also known as Sam Baskini; 1890–unknown). Shanghai, too, which provided safe haven to thousands, thanks first to the enlightened Chinese consul general in Vienna, Dr. Feng Shan Ho, and subsequently to the Japanese policy of indifference to Nazi racial agendas, had a number of institutions in place, foremost among them the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra and Guoli Shanghai Yinyue Zhuanke Xuexiao (today, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music). Musicians who spent their first years of exile in Shanghai included the Berlin-born violinist Wolfgang Fraenkel (1897–1983), who taught theory and composition and was a seminal influence on several dozen Chinese students, including the composers Ding Shande (1911–1995) and Sang Tong (b. 1923) and the prominent conductor Li Delun (1917-2001). Refuge was also available in other parts of China, including Nanjing, Harbin and even Inner Mongolia, where the Berlin-born violinist Helmut Stern (b. 1928) spent several years.

Above all, of course, England and the United States provided familiar institutional and cultural opportunities for exiled musicians. During the post-World War I era, cultural exchange among continental Europe, England and the United States had flourished, thanks in part to the Internationale Gesellschaft für Neue Musik (International Society for Contemporary Music) but also as a result of the English and American tradition of completing one's musical training in Vienna, Berlin or Paris. The Viennese composer Karl Weigl (1881–1949), for example, found his foreign students to be immeasurably helpful to him when he was forced into exile. A number of refugee aid organizations, including the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (originally Council for Assisting Refugee Academics), administered by Tess Simpson, assisted several thousand artists and intellectuals to obtain positions in the United Kingdom between 1933 and 1939. But England's borders gradually closed, and after 1940 many immigrants already legally in the country were either imprisoned in internment camps or deported to Australia and Canada. Among conductors who found refuge in England was Karl Rankl (1898–1968), who arrived in London three weeks before war broke out and in 1946 became music director of the newly reopened Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. Erwin Stein (1885–1958) and Alfred Kalmus (1889–1972), both from Vienna, and Leipzig-born Richard Schauer (1892–1952) were among those who continued their careers in music publishing. Notable performers who left their mark on England include the Amadeus Quartet members Norbert Brainin (1923–2005) and Peter Schidlof (1922–87), both from Vienna, and Munich-born Siegmund Nissel (1922–2008), who met in the internment camp on the Isle of Man. Composers who succeeded in relocating to England include Hans Gál (1890–1987), who taught for many years at the University of Edinburgh, and Berthold Goldschmidt (1903–96), who after early struggles eventually found a job with the BBC and late in life again came into his own as a composer. The BBC, in offering jobs to a number of other Continental exiles - among them the brilliant critic and thinker Hans Keller (1919–85) and the multifaceted writer and performer Mosco Carner (1904–85), both from Vienna, and the Berlin-born composer and conductor Walter Goehr (1903–60) - became an important voice in shaping contemporary British musical life.

Immigration to the United States, which was still recovering from a deep economic depression, was much more difficult than the size of the country seemed to suggest to the thousands of refugees who hoped to settle there. Despite having initiated the multinational Evian Conference of 1938 to discuss the refugee situation, the Roosevelt administration decided to keep the number of Austrian and German immigrants allowed into the United States at their combined 1924 quota levels, and U.S. consuls were ordered to keep the number of visas from German territory well below even that figure.

Those who succeeded in legally entering the United States were dispersed throughout the country, their destinations usually determined by a serendipitous combination of luck and connections. A first job by no means guaranteed stability; most exiles needed to enter the job market several times during their first ten or more years in the country. They usually assimilated quickly into American society, at the same time taking comfort, as new immigrants have always done, from local communities of fellow immigrants, with whom they could speak their mother tongue and share experiences. Yet these exile communities often reflected the same political and ideological splits that had divided individuals in Europe. Moreover, exiles had to compete for jobs not only with Americans but also with each other.

Then as now, Europeans believed in the connection between scholarship and performance, and performers were often composers as well. Thus most exiles with musical training were able to reorient their professional activities according to need - and flexibility was certainly one of the main requirements for a successful transition. The Moravian-born violinist, pedagogue and composer Hugo Kauder (1888–1972) joined the faculty of The Music House, Herman de Grab's private music school in New York, where he also conducted a student chorus; the writer and conductor Paul Bekker (1882–1937), who had been active as the Wiesbaden Opera's artistic director, returned to his earlier career as a music critic; the Polish-born composer and conductor (1909–94) accompanied such artists as Lauritz Melchior and worked for both the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera as rehearsal pianist, vocal coach and conductor. Even composers who were able to continue their teaching careers usually found that their new students' prior training demanded a revised approach.

The largest and most diverse collection of exiled musicians settled in the Northeast, where the high density of schools and cultural organizations offered a range of job possibilities. Among conductors who found performance opportunities in New York City were Cologne-born William (originally Hans Wilhelm) Steinberg (1899–1978), who led a number of NBC Symphony Orchestra concerts before going on to become conductor of the Pittsburgh and Boston symphony orchestras, and Vienna-born Fritz Stiedry (1883–1968), who in 1937 had the good fortune to be Ira Hirschmann's choice of director for his newly founded New Friends of Music Chamber Orchestra; from 1945 on he conducted principally for New York's Metropolitan Opera and Chicago's Lyric Opera. Among university-trained musicians who settled in the Northeast were Alfred Einstein (1880-1952), who taught at Smith College until retiring in 1950, when he moved to the West Coast, and the Bach scholar Hans T. David (1902–67), who initially found a job with Carleton Sprague Smith, head of the New York Public Library's music division. Smith worked with refugee aid organizations to find temporary work for other exiles as well, including the pioneering musicologist Curt Sachs (1881–1959), who also taught at New York and Columbia universities, and Smith's former teacher Weigl, who, over the course of his eleven years in exile, held a succession of short-term teaching positions at such institutions as the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut, the New York YMCA, Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, Brooklyn College and Boston Conservatory. Other teachers of note in the Northeast included the Hamburg-born Alfred Mann (1917–2006), for decades an influential figure at both Rutgers University and the Eastman School of Music; and the composer Karol Rathaus (1895–1954), who, after having spent his first four exile years in London, found a position at New York's Queens College in 1940, only three years after its founding.

At Yale University, Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) taught composition from 1940 to 1953; his students there included Lukas Foss, Norman Dello Joio, Mel Powell, Harold Shapero, Hans Otte and Ruth Schonthal. Hindemith was also among those who initiated interest in the performance of medieval and renaissance music. The violinist Adolf Busch (1891–1952), who settled in Vermont, became cofounder, in 1951 - along with his son-in-law, the pianist Rudolf Serkin (1903–91), and their friend, the flutist Marcel Moyse (1889–1984) - of the Marlboro School of Music and the annual Marlboro Festival; all were refugees from Europe. Serkin was hired to teach at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, of which he eventually became director, and whose faculty included the newly arrived cellist Emanuel Feuermann (1902–42). Philadelphia also had the Settlement Music School, led for forty years by the Dutch-born Johann Grolle, who provided short-term employment to a number of newcomers.

Black Mountain College, in North Carolina, likewise proved to be a magnet for exiles. From its founding, in 1933, the school - which gave the Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers their first refuge - incorporated European thinking into its progressive teaching agendas. Musicians hired by the school included the violinist Rudolf Kolisch (1896–1978); the musicologist and conductor Heinrich Jalowetz (1882–1946), who remained at the school until his death; the composer Charlotte Schlesinger (1909–76), who went on to teach for many years at the Wilson School of Music in Yakima, Washington; and the musicologist Edward E. Lowinsky (1908–85), who subsequently taught at Queens College, the University of California in Berkeley and, after 1961, the University of Chicago.

Exiles who came to the Midwest included the Hungarian-born violist and composer Marcel Dick (1898–1991), one of the founding members of the Kolisch Quartet; after initial stints in New York and Detroit he became principal violist of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1943, and after 1949 he taught theory and composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Kenyon College and Western Reserve (now Case Western Reserve) University. Indiana also attracted a number of exiles, among them the musicologist Paul Nettl (1889-1972), who exerted a profound influence during his long career at the Indiana University School of Music. Among musicians who found academic positions in the Chicago area were Siegmund Levarie (b. 1914), who taught at the University of Chicago for most of his professional life, and Hans Tischler (b. 1915), who was at Roosevelt University from 1947 to 1965 before settling into an even longer career at Indiana University. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under its longtime German-born conductor Frederick Stock, also provided a number of émigré musicians with jobs.

On the West Coast, the greatest chances for a musical career were to be found in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Viennese conductor Kurt Adler (1905–88), after starting his exile as an assistant chorus director at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, eventually went on to serve as general director of the San Francisco Opera from 1953 to 1981. The Hamburg-born composer Bernhard Abramowitsch (1906–86), after finding first refuge in Portland, Oregon, likewise moved to the Bay Area, where his students included David Del Tredici, Leon Kirchner and Leonard Rosenman. Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), who fled from occupied Paris in 1940, found a position waiting for him at Mills College, in Oakland, which he retained until 1971; Dave Brubeck, Steve Reich and Burt Bacharach were among his students there.

The community of exiles in Southern California may be the best-documented and, thanks to their connection with the Hollywood studios, most glamorous group of émigrés. Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957), Kurt Weill (1900–50), Walter Jurmann (1903–71) and Bronsilaw Kaper (1902–83) had paved the way in the film studios for later exiled arrivals such as Franz Waxman (1906–67; originally Franz Wachsmann) and the versatile Frederick Hollander (1896–1976; originally Friedrich Hollaender). The Italian-Jewish émigré Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968) also wrote film scores after he settled in the Los Angeles area, as did, part-time, the two Vienna-born composers Ernst Toch (1887–1964) and Eric Zeisl (1905–59). But Hollywood remained closed to most “serious” composers. Most of the European musicians who came to Southern California - exiled “into Paradise,” as the experience has often been described - found that their opportunities lay primarily in the areas of performance and teaching. The conductor Harold Byrns (originally Hans Bernstein; 1903–77), who also worked for the studios and Broadway, founded the Harold Byrns Chamber Orchestra and later the Los Angeles Chamber Symphony. The conductor Otto Klemperer (1885–1973) began his American career as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1933 to 1939. The pianist Jakob Gimpel (1906–89) found work concertizing and recording for the studios; like many others he was not able to win the level of acclaim he had enjoyed in Europe, and after the war he returned often to perform in Europe, as well as becoming an influential teacher at California State University at Northridge. The harpsichordist Alice Ehlers (1887–1981) was more successful in continuing her performing career; she was also, like Hindemith, an important proselytizer for early music, and for many years she taught at the University of Southern California (USC), where she had a large following of students. USC's faculty from the 1930s on also included, in the composition and theory department, the Viennese composers Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), Ernst Kanitz (1894–1978) and Toch, as well as Hamburg-born Ingolf Dahl (1912–70). Ernst Krenek (1900–91), who survived his first years of U.S. exile by teaching at schools in the East and Midwest, moved to Southern California hoping to be able to live as a professional composer, but he too was constrained for many years to rely on such teaching opportunities as he could find, including at Los Angeles State College and the Southern California School of Music and Art.

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Among the various strands of tradition, imported influence and spontaneous change that have often created national cultural transformations, surely one of the most easily traced is that which was created by the worldwide dispersion of European exiles in the mid- twentieth century. The life stories of the musicians briefly spotlighted here reflect some of the ways in which exiled Europeans contributed to the cultures of the countries that took them in. This is not to say that the process was straightforward: just as exiles regarded assimilation with an ambivalence that was not infrequently tinged with convictions of cultural superiority, so the welcome extended to newcomers was often less than wholehearted. Yet the effect of this interaction was unarguably one of mutual enrichment, the legacy of which continues to this day.